Cancer Survivorship: Going Back to School


By Abby Henry, Oncology Content Manager, PearlPoint Cancer Support

Summer is coming to a close, and school will be back in session soon. Did you put school on hold after receiving a cancer diagnosis? Have you decided to return to school to pursue a new career path? Are you currently in school while undergoing cancer treatment? No matter your situation, here are some things to consider about going to school as a cancer survivor:

Studying with Chemo Brain
Cognitive issues or “chemo brain” is a common side effect for many cancer patients. Cognitive issues can include memory loss and difficulty concentrating. It’s easy to see how this could create problems for students, but planning ahead and staying organized can help you manage these issues. Make to-do lists. De-clutter your desk. Minimize distractions while studying. If you are really struggling, don’t be afraid to speak with your professor. Chances are your professor wants to help you succeed! Extra tutoring or an extension on a big assignment may help.

Fighting Fatigue
Students pulling all-nighters and sleeping through class is a well-known stereotype, but for cancer survivors, especially those still in treatment, fatigue can be a real side effect to tackle. To keep yourself energized, always try to get a full night’s sleep. Add protein-rich snacks to your day and remember to stay well-hydrated.

Protect Your Immune System
Depending on your cancer treatment, your immune system may be compromised. If you are considering living in student housing, such as a dorm, speak with your healthcare team. In close living quarters, like college dorms, illness can spread quickly so it may be best to look for different housing options. Also, make sure you are up-to-date on all your immunizations. Most schools require you to provide your immunization records before beginning classes.

Doctor’s Appointments & Class Conflicts
Let your healthcare team know you are going back to school. They will help you schedule appointments around your class schedule when possible. Check your classes’ attendance policy. How many classes can you miss? Can you turn in assignment early? Can you come to office hours to review missed material? Find a friend in class that you can depend on to take notes when you have to miss lectures. If you will need to miss a class, let your professor know as soon as possible. (Side note: Although school may be a priority, your health will always be the most important thing. Take care of yourself!)

Student Health Plans
As a student, your college or university may offer student health plans which can be an affordable way to get basic health insurance. However, like with any health insurance plan, you will need to find out what the plan covers. For example, would your follow-up care be covered? Remember, if you are under 26 years of age, you can be covered on your parents’ insurance plan.

As a cancer survivor, you may be eligible for special scholarships. Here are few that are available to cancer survivors.

Now, finish that back-to-school shopping and get ready to hit the books!

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