Skip to main content
 CHANGE IN VISITATION GUIDELINES: Please read before visiting Rutgers Cancer Institute.

Helping Students Cope with Cancer in the Family

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 08:00

Little girl holds fathers and mothers hands

New Brunswick, N.J., August 1, 2022 – When a student’s parent, sibling or other key figure in their life has cancer, school attendance and performance, social relationships and behavior can all be impacted. Families coping with a cancer diagnosis often face a wide range of challenges and concerns, and supporting children and teens through this process can be a daunting task. Susan Stephens, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C and Jennifer Boughton, MSW, LCSW, social workers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnanabs Health, offer expert advice on helping help your child cope during the upcoming school year.

Communicate with teachers and school staff about what is going on. School is a vital part of any child’s life. Teachers and other school staff play a key role in maintaining a sense of stability and normality for students. Additionally, the school community plays a central role in the lives of some families. It is important to notify your child’s school about the medical situation in your family, so that teachers can stay aware of changes in the student’s behavior such as decrease in attention and activity or emotional outbursts.

Maintain open communication with your kids and teens at home.  A child’s understanding of cancer depends on their age, maturity level and experience with the disease. When someone they know is diagnosed with cancer, they may have a range of reactions and emotions. Communicating honestly about cancer builds trust and increases the likelihood your child will come to you with questions or concerns. Not knowing what is going on or how to cope with it can be scary.

Help your child anticipate how their lives might need to change. When family routines change, it’s important for children to know how it will impact their life. In some cases, your child’s normal everyday routine might be disrupted, including a change in who will bring them to school, make them dinner or take them to after-school activities. You may also need to let them know about any expected change in appearance or behavior (hair loss, fatigue). Talking openly can help everyone in the family cope with whatever changes lie ahead.

Seek support if needed. If your family needs psychosocial support, there are teams of experts available who understand how cancer affects a person and their loved ones. At Rutgers Cancer Institute facilities, social workers can help find strategies to assist patients and families with adapting and managing concerns, offer individual and family counseling, stress-management and school re-entry planning. School re-entry during and after treatment includes educating school staff about pediatric cancer and Sickle Cell Disease as well as helping develop appropriate 504 accommodations or Individual Education Plans(IEPs) relevant to the patient’s medical needs.

For additional support and educational programs visit our Patient Support Services page

For journalists – contact:
Krista Didzbalis 
Media Relations Specialist