If you've just finished a long hospital stay, you'll be excited to see all your
friends. But you may have a lot of questions. Like, "Will friends treat me the same?"
"Will I be able to keep up in class?" and "Will I be able to play sports again?"
You might have family concerns, too. How will brothers and sisters react? Will
parents be totally overprotective? And what if you have to depend on mom and dad more
than you'd like?
These feelings are perfectly normal. Most teens who've had long hospital stays
do get back into the swing of things just fine. All it takes is a little time and
Getting Into a Routine
In the hospital, you probably missed the everyday routines of home — everything
from hearing your alarm clock in the morning to catching the bus to getting called
to dinner. Routines, no matter how small, feel good because they help us structure
our lives. They let us know what to expect.
That's why it's a good idea to try to get back into a routine as soon as you can.
Going back to school will automatically help you do this, but there are other ways
too. For example, you can:
begin to take on some chores at home (as long as you're physically able)
start to take responsibility for your care like changing bandages or scheduling
keep track of your doctor visits
Setting some realistic expectations for yourself doesn't mean you can't accept
a little extra TLC now and then. That's part of the healing process too.
Going Back to School
You've probably spent a lot of time wondering what that first day back will be
like. It's probably best to expect that it will be both exciting and a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, there are people who can help make your transition back to school
easier. Once your return date is set, your health care team, along with you and your
parents, can work with your teachers, school nurse, school counselor, and principal
to determine what you'll need to be comfortable, safe, and successful at school.
You may find it best to ease into things. You can start with brief visits to school.
Or try a couple of days a week at first or even half days initially — whatever
works for you. For extra moral support, walk in with a friend those first few times.
Because cancer and its treatment can affect how you learn, think, feel, and act,
you may find that you need some extra help, especially at first. If you're having
any trouble with concentration, memory, or fine motor skills, let your parents and
teachers know so they can help.
Sometimes special accommodations can help — things like:
extra time to complete assignments
help with certain physical activities
rest breaks built into the day
Don't be embarrassed if any of these things are recommended for you. They're meant
to help you succeed.
Your school can find ways to include you in activities, like sports or clubs. Talk
to your doctor about which activities are OK and which ones aren't. If some things
(like contact sports) aren't a good idea now, get involved in other ways, like keeping
score or acting as a coach's assistant. Ask about other activities you find interesting.
Don't let your desire to jump back in keep you from listening to your body. If
you're too tired to go to the coffee shop or mall after school, don't push it. Go
home and rest, and plan to join your friends on a day when you feel up to it.
If you aren't feeling well, or think you might have a fever, let your teacher or
school nurse know right away. Get in touch with a parent too. The sooner you deal
with a problem, like an infection, the better off you'll be.
Reuniting With Friends
Returning to school after a long absence can sometimes bring a lot of extra attention
your way. This can be harder to deal with if cancer has changed your appearance. If
you're feeling a little self-conscious, like if you've lost or gained weight, try
to find some clothes that fit how you are now and make you feel good.
If you've lost your hair, do what feels right for you. Maybe it's wearing nothing
on your head. Or perhaps it's styling a look with hats or scarves, or finding a wig
that works for you.
Your family and friends are likely to be your greatest supporters at this time.
But as you probably already know, not all friends are created equal. Some stand beside
you no matter what. Once you get back to school, you may decide that some people in
your circle are no longer worth your time or energy. You also might find that others
want to be helpful but just don't know how.
Talking with friends about your cancer can help them understand what you went through.
If you feel comfortable going into detail about your experience, great. If not, it's
perfectly OK to say, "I don't feel like talking about that right now" or to change
the subject. It's all a personal choice. Your true friends will accept you whichever
decision you make.
Coping With Stress
Once you go through something like cancer, you may find that things are not exactly
like they were before. You've gone through physical and emotional changes that most
of your friends and family haven't. It's not surprising that you're finding a new
Go easy on yourself as you find what works for you. If you have some bumps in the
road — feeling stressed out, having trouble sleeping, struggling in class, or
looking for excuses not to go to school, for example — talk to someone about
it. Your parents, the school counselor, and your doctor are all people who want to
see you do well and know how to get you the help you need to get back on track.
You might also want to try a few things at home to help you deal with your emotions.
Keeping a journal, drawing or painting, or making a scrapbook are all great ways to
cope with your feelings. They can also help you see how far you've come in your journey
back to health.
Connecting with a support group — whether online or in person — is
also a great way to share your fears and concerns with other teens who know exactly
how you feel. Maybe you met people in the hospital who have already gone through this
or are going through it at the same time you are. Reach out to them. They could probably
use your support just like you need theirs.
It may take a little while, but things will get easier. And who knows? Once you
discover your new normal, you might find it's even better than your old one!