If you are a child or teen who has been hospitalized with cancer for a long time, you may be a little anxious about going back to school. You may be worried about the reactions friends and family will have too. But these feelings are perfectly normal. And the truth is that most kids who've experienced long hospital stays do get back into the swing of things just fine. All it takes is a little time and patience.
Getting back into routines
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 volunteer to take on some chores at home (as long as you're physically able).
Going back to school
Fortunately, there are people who can help make your transition back to school easier. Once your return date is set, your healthcare team, along with 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.
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. For example, some teens who've undergone radiation or chemotherapy have trouble with concentration, memory or fine motor skills like handwriting. If you're having any difficulty, let your parents and teachers know so they can help.
Sometimes special accommodations can help — things like adaptive equipment, extra time to complete assignments, help with certain physical activities, rest breaks built into the day or tutoring. Don't be embarrassed if any of these things are recommended for you. They're meant to help you succeed.
Remember not to overdo things and to talk to your doctor about what you can expect to be able to do.
Dealing with physical changes
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. As with any look, it may take some time to find a style you're comfortable with, so try to have fun experimenting.
Coping with stress
Go easy on yourself as you find what works for you. If you have bumps in the road and you have trouble sleeping, struggle in class or feel stressed out about anything — talk to someone about it. Your parents, school counselor and 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 "check in" 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.
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!