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Cancer: Readjusting to Home and School

Reconnecting With Family and Friends

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 patience.

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 your medicines
  • 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:

  • special equipment
  • extra time to complete assignments
  • help with certain physical activities
  • rest breaks built into the day
  • tutoring

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 normal.

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!

Date reviewed: January 2019