Just like when you left hospital, your return to school, college or university is a big step in your recovery. This can feel exciting but also daunting, especially if you’ve been away for a long time. However, preparing for your return will really help. Although it might be tough, it’s important that you tell your teachers about your condition so that they can support your needs. At the end of the day, if you don’t tell them, it’s very difficult for them to help you.
Going back to education following your stem cell transplant does not necessarily mean you should begin full-time straight away. Your transplant team will help you decide when it’s ok to return. Your recovery is a gradual process, so ease yourself into it slowly. You may be able to do some work at home or attend part-time. Try to build up your workload slowly, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
You might not have been able to see your close friends very often during your recovery, either because you were too far away, you chose not to or because they weren’t sure what to say. It’s also possible that your appearance has changed since you were in school or college. To make yourself feel more comfortable, you could organise to go out with your friends for a catch up before you return or, if you don’t feel up to that, invite them to your home for a chat.
Take this opportunity to tell them as much (or as little) about what you are going through as you feel comfortable with. They might have questions about things they are unsure about as well, so give them our Supporting your friend through a stem cell transplant booklet to read.
‘I still had to wear a headscarf to school and some of the new first years obviously didn't know me or know what had happened. And I remember one day taking my headscarf off and one of them said, "OMG, she looks like a boy"'
Amanda, who had a stem cell transplant to treat AML. You can read her story here.
Before you return to your studies, it’s a good idea to get in contact with your teachers to let them know how you have been getting on. Although they will know why you had to take time off, they may not be aware of your needs during your recovery.
This is the perfect opportunity to think about what could be done to make your return easier. It’s important that they know there could be times when you have to attend medical appointments or feel too unwell to study. You may want your tutor to talk to your classmates about what has been going on, so that you don’t get overwhelmed by everyone asking you the same questions. If you prefer, you could ask your parent, guardian or friend to go along with you.
‘I was lucky with my teachers in that they would send me work every single week, check on my progress, ask my friends or get my friends to give me stuff. I was really interactive with them.'
Kate, who had a stem cell transplant in 2015.
If you are about to start university or return to your studies after your transplant, then potentially living a long way from home can provide its own set of challenges. Make sure you have a good support network in place, and that the people you live with know who to contact in an emergency. You should also try to move your appointments to a local hospital and register with a GP that has access to your clinical records.
Alternatively, it’s possible study for a qualification at home though the Open University.
It’s a horrible thing to have to talk about, but some people might use what you have been going through to make fun of you. If this happens, talk to an adult you can trust and get help – you should not have to put up with this alone. Although it’s not an excuse, some people react this way because they are nervous and don’t understand your situation. You might want your teacher to talk to your classmates about what you have gone through before you return. The Teenage Cancer Trust can arrange for an expert to come into your school to do this.
This is probably the last thing you want to think about as you prepare for your return to education. However, it might ease your mind to know that you can apply for certain access arrangements that could make your life a little easier when it comes to exams. This can include having somebody write for you or being given additional breaks.
You might also decide to apply for a ‘special consideration’ for your exams. This means the examiner will consider your individual situation and the time you’ve had away from your studies when marking your exam sheet. You will need to talk to your teachers for details of your specific college/university.
‘I've finished my forth year at medical school and I'm really proud of my achievements so far. There was a time when I got an infection in hospital, and I was so sick I wondered if I'd ever even make it home.'
Megan, who had a stem cell transplant when she was 17. You can read her story here.
Information published: 13/11/2018
Next review due: 13/11/2021