More than 6,000 school-age children are affected by leukemia and lymphoma each year. These blood cancers account for about 40 percent of all childhood cancers. Fortunately, because of new and better therapies, blood cancer survival rates for children have improved significantly during the last several decades, allowing many of them to return to the classroom after undergoing treatment. But that experience of going back to school can be filled with fear and anxiety for both the children and their families.
Most children with cancer will attend school at least some of the time during and after their treatment. Because school is a place for learning and fun, children benefit from returning as soon as medically possible. Yet, returning to school after cancer treatment can be a tough adjustment for young survivors.
We spoke with Meredith Barnhart, LCSW, Director, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Information Resource Center, who has extensive experience as a clinical social worker, working with children and families impacted by cancer. Here’s what she had to say…
Every family living with childhood cancer is thrown into upheaval. The good news, however, is that most childhood patients can expect to have full and productive lives. Many childhood cancer survivors return to school, attend college, enter the workforce, marry and become parents. Nevertheless, being vigilant about follow-up care, being aware of long-term and late effects of treatment, helping your child return to school and even dealing with your emotions are all things you'll need to manage.
What will other kids think? Am I behind on my work? Did I miss any fun activities? Do I look different? These are just some of the many questions cancer patients have when the time comes for them to return back to school and their regular routine. For some, they can return at the beginning of the school year when fellow classmates have been away as well, but for cancer patients, this transition can be even more difficult when they return in the middle of the school year and have missed academic and social activities.
How LLS can help
LLS offers several resources that can help ease your child back to school after an absence including informative publications, DVDs, videos and programs that help explain to classmates and teachers how kids with cancer feel, why they may look different, what type of treatment they've undergone and special needs they may have on their return. All materials are available through LLS's chapters, including:
The Trish Greene Back to School Program For Children With Cancer
The Trish Greene Back to School Program offers free information and materials to parents and educators from the local chapters of LLS. The program was developed to encourage communication among parents, young patients, healthcare professionals and school personnel to assure children a smooth transition from active treatment to back to school.
Staying Connected: Facilitating the Learning Experience During and After Cancer Treatment
This educational program walks school personnel and parents through the emotional, physical, cognitive and late effects of cancer treatment that children may face, and introduces numerous resources that can help childhood cancer survivors flourish in the educational environment post-treatment. Contact your LLS chapter for more information.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Free Booklets and Videos
LLS provides free educational booklets and videos designed to help guide your child’s return to school after a cancer diagnosis.
“People say, oh I could never do that! But when you meet cancer patients, you understand the bravery and spirit those people show each and every day. Their struggles motivate and inspire you to test the limits of your endurance and to cross that finish line. You’ll be surprised by what you can do.”
– John Kelleyni
On July 2, LLS lost one of our most dedicated volunteers, John Kellenyi, to cancer. John was a lifelong philanthropist and marathon enthusiast, supporting LLS for almost two decades.
John started volunteering with LLS in 1999 as a Team In Training (TNT) participant, personally raising $122,000 that year alone.
In 2012, he joined his friends and colleagues from the New Jersey Chapter – Guy Adami, an anchor on CNBC’s Fast Money, and John Hyland, who has been struggling with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) since 2008 – in taking on the inaugural New York-New Jersey Ironman.
Just one thing – John didn’t know how to swim! While training for the rigorous 13-mile bike ride and 3.2-mile run John was also learning how to prepare for the half-mile swim.
In all, John ran a total of 40 marathons raising $1.4 million as a TNT participant, and more than $5 million in total for LLS.
John was passionate in his devotion to LLS, and he served on countless boards and committees. He served as New Jersey Chapter Board Chair and on LLS’s prestigious national Advancement Committee.
Summer is in full swing, and many of us are enjoying outdoor activities and lots of time in the sun. For cancer patients, being mindful of sun exposure before, during and after cancer treatment is extremely important.
According to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Information Specialists, a team of master’s level oncology social workers, nurses and health educators, sunlight has benefits, but it is important to protect yourself from too much sun exposure.
Q. If I already have blood cancer, am I at an increased risk for skin cancer?
A diagnosis of certain blood cancers puts patients at an increased risk for skin cancer. Most cancer treatments including medications and radiation therapy increase your sensitivity to the sun. Studies have shown that skin cancer rates are greater in survivors.
Q. Should I avoid the sun during treatment?
People who are being treated with certain drugs or radiation therapy are generally advised to avoid all direct sun exposure during treatment, and for a period of time after completing treatment.
Q. Why is my skin more susceptible to sun damage during treatment?
Skin-related side effects of cancer treatment may include dryness, redness, itchiness or sores, making your skin more sensitive to the harmful effects of sunlight. It’s important to check with your doctor, oncology nurse or physician’s assistant about specific sun-related effects of your therapy.
Q. What sun safety tips do you recommend for cancer patients?
Plan ahead. Plan outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon when there is moderate sun exposure.
Seek shade. The sun’s rays are reflected by sand, water and snow, so take extra care in these settings.
Use sunscreen. Use a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and choose one that protects against all types of sunrays. Use SPF 30 on any areas of your body directly affected by treatment with radiation. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
Cover up. Wear a scarf or a soft hat with a wide brim to protect your head from the sun. Choose clothing that covers your arms and legs; consider wearing clothing specially designed to protect against UV rays, and avoid lightly woven fabrics that let the sun’s rays through.
Get a checkup. Schedule annual body checks with a dermatologist.
Please see the free LLS bookletUnderstanding Side Effects of Drug Therapy for additional suggestions to help you take care of yourself, plus questions to ask your doctor and nurse while you're undergoing treatment.
For more information, please contact an LLS Information Specialist Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time toll free at (800) 955-4572. Click here to contact us by email or to chat live online with us.