SCHOOL – “I can’t ever go back there. How can I go to school looking like this? It would be just too weird to go in a wheelchair.”

On the other hand:

“I really miss my friends. It will be great to feel “normal” again. I can’t believe I actually miss school.”

If you’ve been out of school during treatment, you might be nervous about going back. Who wouldn’t be after all you’ve been through? Kids Like YouThese thoughts from kids like you might help:

People Change

First, understand that “normal” will never be normal again. Don’t expect things to be the same because they won’t. They can’t. You’re different and you’ll never be the same as you were before cancer. You have to create a “new” normal. This might apply to your relationships at school. Your friends have not had the same experiences as you (thankfully!) and they may have a tough time dealing with your illness. You may lose some of your old “friends” but your true friends will hang in there with you. Tory, diagnosed with aplastic anemia, said this about returning to high school:

“I was terrified and constantly wondering if people were going to laugh or even reject me for the way I looked. Before I left for school, my Father gave me a bit of advice that has stuck with me since. He said, “Throughout your life, you will come to realize that you’ll be able to count your true friends with one hand. So, today at school you’ll see who’s who.” “He was right. People who I had thought were my friends looked at me as if I were a creature from Mars. When all was said and done, however, the few people who spoke to me were and still are my true friends. Every one of them told me it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

If you don’t have expectations that things will be the “same”, it will be easier for you and your friends to deal with things being different.

Life Goes On

Cancer is just one part of your life – a big part, granted – but still just one piece of who you are. You are much more than your cancer. All the old stuff you used to care about before the big “C” – friends, planning for college or a job, extra-curricular activities – may still be important now. Life goes on, right? Kids Like YouWhen Jenn, 16, went back to school after treatment for AML, she didn’t wear anything on her bald head because it wasn’t comfortable. She started cheerleading again and simply said,

“People just had to get used to seeing me look different. I was the same old Jenn I just had a new look.”

If your treatment causes you to be in and out of school, try to stay connected, so when you return, you’ll know “who’s doing what.” As Jenn recalls,

“Catching up on the school gossip was hard”.

Don’t let Cancer rule your life. Remember, you are a TLC – a teen living with cancer.

Asking for Help is OK

Everyone will want to help but might not know how. They might be afraid to offer help because they don’t want you to think they are pitying you. Erin, 15, with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, told us,

“There is a difference between caring and pity. I hate it when people pity me. I just want them to care.”

What’s the difference, we asked? Erin answered,

“Caring is treating you as “you”, not as someone with cancer. That’s pity.”

Be straight with your friends about what you need and what you don’t. Tell them how they can help – don’t accept their pity. Ask for extra help in your classes and take advantage of tutoring, if it is available. Jenn, 16, said,

“It was hard to catch up with school work. My teachers were very understanding and willing to work with me so that was good and a big help.”

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. Your friends and teachers want to help. Don’t be too proud to ask.

Tell your Teachers What to Expect

Either you or someone from your medical team can talk with your teachers and guidance counselors about what to expect when you return to school. Some hospitals have educational liaisons who help coordinate the transition. Your teachers might be able to prepare your classmates so they won’t be so shocked. Erin told her teachers,

“Just tell everyone at the same time what’s going on, so everybody knows.”

This made it easier for her during treatment and when she returned. Kids Like YouMatt is 13 and recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Because of really bad pancreatitis that kept him in bed for months, he needed to learn to walk all over again.

“I had a real rough first day of school. I had to use a wheelchair for about three months. I bet some kids wondered why I needed it because I could get up to my desk by myself. But I would never have made it to class on time without it. Even when I was late, they gave me some slack.”

Talk Openly about your Disease

Most people’s natural tendency is to ignore things they either don’t understand or are uncomfortable with (read about The Elephant in the Room). If you talk openly about your disease, it will make it easier for everyone. Jenn says,

“When I went back to school it was very overwhelming at first. But seeing my friends and talking to them made it a lot easier.”

Often when things are not talked about openly and everything is hush-hush, rumors sometimes get started.

Diane, 17 with Hodgkin’s Disease, told us that when she returned to school after a long absence, “Some people thought I had been pregnant!”

She immediately set them straight about that little piece of gossip!

Know Yourself

You might feel ready to jump right back into the swing of things. Don’t be surprised if it’s not that easy. Some teens find school more difficult – tougher to concentrate, harder to grasp new concepts. Your treatment might have caused some short or long-term learning problems. You might have to work harder than you did in the past to achieve your goals. Maybe your goals will change. That’s OK. Just know who you are and what you want. The rest will follow. Because of your experience with cancer, your motivation to excel in school might be greater. Some kids say that after cancer, life becomes more meaningful and goals come into sharper focus. You may feel new energy at school that will drive you to do incredible things with your life. Others around you will feel that positive energy and will strive to live their lives as fully as you are living yours. And that’s pretty cool, don’t you think?