Going back to school after cancer treatment

Find out more about what going back to school after cancer treatment might be like, how you can prepare and what support you can get. 

  • There are ways you can prepare for going back to school after treatment that might help with any stress you’re feeling  
  • There are different kinds of support you can ask for at school 
  • You can request reasonable adjustments once you’ve returned to school 

When to go back to school after cancer treatment

Having treatment for cancer might mean that you’ve spent some time away from school. It can be difficult to think about going back to school and you might not be sure when the right time to go back is. You might have carried on with some of your schoolwork while you were in hospital or at home, or you might not have been well enough – everyone’s situation is different. 

Thinking about returning to school can bring up a lot of feelings. You might be excited to get back, you might be worried, or you might feel like you don’t want to go back. This is all really normal and understandable.  

If you’re thinking about going back to school you’ll need to think about your physical health, including how well you feel and what your healthcare team says. You’ll also need to think about how ready you feel and your mental health.  

It’s helpful to think about the ways that going to school again can be good for you, like giving you a familiar routine. 

Preparing for going back to school after cancer treatment

Going back to school after time off for treatment can be a real adjustment. Planning ahead might help you feel more prepared and less worried. Or you might prefer not to think about it much until just before you go back.  

To prepare for going back to school you might find some of these tips helpful: 

  • have a chat with your tutor or some of your teachers to find out what’s being taught and if there’s anything you can read through to help you catch up 
  • if you haven’t seen your school friends in a little while, you might want to meet up with them before going back, this might make you feel more comfortable on your first day back 
  • talk to someone about things you’re worried about (this could be someone in your care team, a teacher, a counsellor or therapist, or your Youth Support Coordinator if you have one), they might be able to suggest things that would help you feel more comfortable about going back to school  

When you’re back at school

Once you’re back at school, things might be a bit different from the last time you were there. You might be in different classes, in a different year or have different levels of energy. These changes can be tough. There might be some things you can do to help yourself adjust. 

Support from friends 

Cancer can impact your friendships. This can be because of lots of different things, like not seeing each other at school or college every day, or your friend not knowing what to say. They might be worried, upset, angry, or shocked. They might not know how to respond, so they end up acting out of character – when you’d really like them to be normal with you.   

It could be helpful to try and see some school friends before going back. It might be a bit strange at first, especially if you haven’t seen them for a while. But it also might help ease you back into being around people you used to spend a lot of time with. 

You might want to tell them what you’re worried about or what support you think you might need when you’re back at school. If you’re not sure what support you might need or don’t want to talk about it, then that’s totally fine too. You could share with them the things you’re happy to talk about and what you’d rather not talk about so they can support you in conversations with other people.  

Physical changes

It’s normal to have complicated and difficult feelings about the ways that cancer or cancer treatment changes your body. These changes might be changes to how you look, like hair loss or swelling. They might be changes to how your body works, like your concentration or your immune system (so your body finds it harder to fight off infections). Or they might be changes to how you feel physically, like pain or numbness after an operation, or to how you feel emotionally, like increased anxiety. 

You might feel less confident and worry about seeing people or you might feel the same as you did before being diagnosed. All these feelings are totally normal and there’s no right way to react to a cancer diagnosis; everyone’s experience is different. 

There are a few things that you could try that might help you feel a little more comfortable at the moment, such as being around the right people, who see you for who you are and are kind to you. You might also find that some movement or light exercise, if you feel up to it, might lift your mood and help you get some good quality sleep. Find more information about how cancer can impact your body image here

What if people ask me questions about my cancer?

Sometimes your classmates or friends at school might ask you questions about cancer, your diagnosis and treatment. It’s totally up to you whether you want to answer these or not, you don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to.  

It can sometimes be helpful to think in advance about how you’ll tell people you don’t want to answer their question. You might want to say something like “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that, can we talk about something else?”.  

It might also help to talk to your friends before you go back about what you are, and aren’t comfortable talking about in relation to your cancer. This way they can support you with any conversations you don’t feel comfortable with.  

Finding someone to talk to at school

It could be helpful to have a particular staff member at school you can go to if you’re feeling anxious or worried about anything. This could be a teacher you trust or particularly get along with. Before you go back to school it might be useful to go and see them at school and ask if they’re happy to support you in this way. When you’re back at school you could set up a regular check-in or you might prefer not having specific times to chat but just to know they’re there if you want to have a talk.  

What can I do if I need help when I’m back at school?

Some of the side effects of cancer treatment can make it really difficult to study and to be at school. It might be that there are some changes that your school could make that would support your learning. This is called ‘reasonable adjustments’. Reasonable adjustments are put in place to reduce any disadvantages you have at school in comparison to someone without a cancer diagnosis.   

If you’re not sure what you might need, you can ask your carers, family, school, and care team to help you with these conversations. If you’re worried about something but not sure what would help, the people around you might have some ideas. 

Here are some examples of reasonable adjustments that support you at school: 

Adjusted timetable 

You might want to think about whether it would be helpful to go back to school with reduced hours to start with to help you ease back in. For example, you might like to try going in part time to start with, or ask if you can finish early. This might be particularly helpful if you’re experiencing brain fog or fatigue following your treatment. It can be even harder to focus on learning if you’re exhausted or struggling to concentrate. It will help you learn better if you’re feeling more comfortable and rested.  

You can also think about what you want to do for lessons which involve more physical activity, like P.E. or dance.    

If you don’t feel well enough to take part in these lessons it could be helpful to think about whether there’s something else you could do to be part of the class. For example, as a referee or another role that doesn’t need as much movement. Or you might want to see if you can do a different lesson instead during this time. 


You might want to talk to a teacher about what helps you manage in class and outside of class, such as:  

  • needing a little bit longer to process things, or to have instructions written down so that you don’t forget them.  
  • needing more time to do your homework, or to get extra reminders to make sure you complete it.  
  • Having work sent to you if you’ve had time off for appointments.   


You might also want to think about things like changing classrooms and going to lunch. Corridors can get very busy when you have to change classrooms between lessons, or at lunchtime. You might be worried about getting from one room to another, or about being around so many people.  

If this is something that worries you, you might want to ask if you can leave lessons five minutes early so you can easily get to your next class or outside for a break. This might also help if you have mobility difficulties after treatment.  

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