Our Support Line is open every weekday from 9am-7pm (AEST). Call us on 1800 592 410 or contact us
Your browser is not supported by this website, please consider browsing the site in a modern browser.

Resources

My student has cancer: Information and resources for teachers

Teachers are an important part of a child and teenager’s life. They influence their students and help shape their futures. The below information and resources can help teachers support the children in their care when a child they know is diagnosed.

When a child in your class is diagnosed with cancer, it can be devastating. School is important for learning new things, socialising with people outside of immediate family and gaining life skills through different experiences. School provides structure and teaches a child boundaries to keep them safe and to help them grow and accomplish goals.

Classroom teachers create a close bond through the year with each of their students, accepting each one of their unique personalities, strengths, and challenges.

You may feel worried for your student as a lot of things in their world are about to change dramatically. You may also be worried about their peers and how they will react. Below, we’ve included some tips and suggestions on how to support the children in your care during this time.

Some of the changes your student may face are:

  • Disruption of school and home routine
  • Continuing absences from school
  • The possible uncertainty of your student’s cancer diagnosis and different treatment options may impact on their emotional well-being and affect their self-esteem and confidence
  • Losing interest in schoolwork e.g., reading and homework
  • Feelings of loss and grief over the separation of friends from being away from peers  
  • Peers finding it challenging to relate to your student and your student relating to their peers
  • Fear, anxiousness and/or confusion about what’s happening to them
  • Physical changes, weight loss, hair loss, exhaustion

Four-year-old Samuel was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in February 2023. Sam is in inter-maintenance to support his remission. He is looking forward to going back to kindy.

I think the hardest part for Sam is not being able to socialise with all his friends all the time. He’s missing kindy. He knows that he needs to have his medicine every day or when we have to go to the hospital, he has to have his port accessed. He knows those treatments need to be done to make him better.

When your student is diagnosed the family may choose not to tell the school right away.  Sometimes a diagnosis is quick and sudden, and other times it takes months of tests and doctors’ visits to get to the point of diagnosis for the school to be aware that something is going on. You may notice absences from school. Many families may be trying to process the news of a cancer diagnosis and once they feel more settled in the news and know what is going to happen in terms of treatment, they may inform you and the school. It can also be helpful to ask them for the contact details of someone that is helping the family at home so you can receive updates, share positive gifts or messages from classmates, or update parents and carers about how their other children are doing at school without overwhelming them.

After the family have advised you and the school, it might be a good time to have a conversation with the family about who they are comfortable for you to share this information e.g. other teachers, classmates and classmate’s families. Informed school staff and families can accommodate the student and family’s needs; anticipate questions from students, colleagues or families and help to distribute information (if consent has been given). (1)

With consent from the family, it can be helpful to appoint a school liaison to be the key point of contact in the school. This could be a teacher that the student is comfortable with or someone from the school wellbeing team. It is important to ensure the family and student are feeling comfortable with this arrangement and have trust and rapport with this identified point of contact who can provide ongoing support around the changing needs and communication with staff on the family’s behalf. (1)

During treatment your student may become concerned about falling behind in their schoolwork. Keep the lines of communication open and ongoing. Flexibility can provide your student and his/her parents with the reassurance they may need if they are feeling anxious or worried about schoolwork.

Depending on cultural backgrounds or different personalities, some families might place a stronger emphasis on keeping their child up to date with schoolwork whereas some families may focus on the task at hand in the present moment and think about schooling when they feel their child is strong enough. We need to remember every family will have a different approach to transitioning their child back into school.

Most major hospitals offer educational programs and support for students who have a long-term illness. If this is your student, obtaining consent from the family to contact the hospital’s school program may be a way to support the student in this situation.

If other students are aware of their classmate’s cancer diagnosis, they may ask a lot of questions. We’d like to encourage you to be mindful of the impact this could have on other students, especially if the cancer prognosis is not positive.  You can use the resource below to help you talk to child about cancer.

How to talk to children about cancer

Download

As a teacher, you can play an important part in your student and their family’s cancer experience. You may want to organise with other staff or families about how to best support the student and their family.

Here are a few ways you can support and keep the lines of communication open for your student while they are away from school:

  • Your other students may ask questions. Explaining the common side effects of cancer – like fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and trouble concentrating – can assist them in grasping the physical and potentially emotional hardships that cancer can bring
  • Once you have permission from the family, you may want to organise with other staff or families about how to support the student and their family
  • Other students in your class may want to send handwritten cards and letters or drawings and other artwork
  • Students can make fun videos in class and keep their classmate updated about what they are up to
  • Use Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime to talk to their classmate in hospital if appropriate
  • If your student is at home, organised visits may be an option.
  • If the parents and doctors are okay with it, send through projects, worksheets, assignments, and any required reading (keeping in mind your student may not have enough energy to complete all tasks)
  • Keeping the student updated so they feel continually supported and included
  • Be led by the student and their family
  • Cancer treatment can cause your student to lose weight or gain weight and lose their hair. They may look sick or different to what you’re used to. It’s important to teach the other students’ empathy over these changes so they don’t resort to bullying

School friendships are important in a child’s life. Keeping the classroom friendship connections strong can play an important role in keeping self-esteem high and your student’s transition back to school easier.

When Adry was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his last year of high school, he recalls the support he received from his school friends. 

Friends texting saying, ‘Hey, I’m here. You don’t need to respond, but just showing you that my presence is here.’ That was the best. It made me realise, and it reminded me along the way that I wasn’t alone. So just showing up and whatever that looks like is obviously different for other people, but my friends and family showing up was the best way to let me know I wasn’t alone.

For more information or support, contact our team of childhood cancer specialists.

Contact us
  1. Cancer Council NSW ‘Talking about cancer in Schools’

Request information And support

We’re ready to help. Please call us on 1800 REDKITE (Mon – Fri 9am – 7pm AEST), or fill out the form below.

    Services interested in:

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

    Ideas

    Counselling: when you’re ready, we are here

    Redkite provides free counselling for adults. You can talk to us once or twice, or more often if you need. It’s up to you.

    Counselling: when you’re ready, we are here

    Redkite provides free counselling for adults. You can talk to us once or twice, or more often if you need. It’s up to you.

    Relationships

    A guide for grandparents of children affected by childhood cancer

    This booklet answers some of the many questions which grandparents of children with cancer told Redkite they would have liked answered when their grandchild was diagnosed and during their grandchild’s treatment phase.

    A guide for grandparents of children affected by childhood cancer

    This booklet answers some of the many questions which grandparents of children with cancer told Redkite they would have liked answered when their grandchild was diagnosed and during their grandchild’s treatment phase.

    Case Studies

    Katie’s story: Music and childhood cancer treatment

    Music can promote connection and strengthen relationships within your family. Katie explored the Redkite Music Box and thought it would be helpful for families facing the cancer experience.

    Katie’s story: Music and childhood cancer treatment

    Music can promote connection and strengthen relationships within your family. Katie explored the Redkite Music Box and thought it would be helpful for families facing the cancer experience.

    Relationships

    Things to do during the school holidays

    These school holidays the kids can have fun and relax after a big term of school and parents can relax the routine and have more time to connect with their family.

    Things to do during the school holidays

    These school holidays the kids can have fun and relax after a big term of school and parents can relax the routine and have more time to connect with their family.