From the Perspective of a Childhood Cancer Survivor – Leigha Bartholomew
Being a childhood cancer survivor, I know what it is like to fall behind in school. Months of my schooling were spent in a hospital and attending weekly medical appointments. I began to feel overwhelmed thinking I’d never be able to catch up or that I wasn’t doing as well as my peers. It was never expected that I would be at the same level as everyone else while I was going through treatment, at the time I believed I just wasn’t good enough. I’m sure a lot of cancer survivors have felt the same way at one point or another.
I had a similar feeling when post-secondary schools introduced a virtual learning environment in the midst of the pandemic. I started noticing a shift in my capabilities. A new learning atmosphere meant new challenges that I couldn’t adapt to as quickly as I had in the past. Attending classes became more difficult, focusing on work and remembering to finish assignments on time developed into more of an issue than it had been just a few months before, and my motivation to be involved in class discussions decreased. On top of that, I couldn’t bring myself to speak with my professors over Zoom about the challenges that I was facing. It seemed like I was in a rut and I didn’t know how to pull myself out.
My ADHD diagnosis came just a few months after we started learning virtually. While I was familiar with ADHD, I was surprised to learn that I had the disorder myself. Adding this on top of the other issues I had with mental health (I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in high school) was not something I had even considered, especially so far into my education. If someone were to look at my grades, I bet they wouldn’t have considered it either. Luckily, I didn’t have to go through these challenges all on my own.
Because mental health and learning disabilities pose a challenge for a number of young people, there are resources that have been put into place by schools to help students get through their education. In post-secondary school, there are learning strategists or assistive/adaptive technologists for students seeking academic support. Your academic advisor is also available to help you find programs or services tailored for your specific challenges.
Being a childhood cancer survivor can further complicate things. While some survivors may already be predisposed to having mental health and learning challenges, others can develop them due to the treatments they received or other related factors and experiences. These issues can also continue into adolescence and adulthood. Since most people working in pediatric oncology are aware of these challenges, there are specific resources available to survivors and their families. POGO AfterCare Clinic professionals, such as counsellors, art therapists, clinical psychologists and social workers are some of the resources available to help cancer survivors develop strategies related to the difficulties they might be facing with school or everyday life, and POGO School and Work Transitions Counsellors can help you to access these various resources!
My advice to fellow survivors would be to understand that you are not alone if you find yourself struggling. I am sure a lot of people can relate to me when I say that I prefer in-person schooling over the virtual classroom, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less scary having to make the transition. If my own experiences have taught me anything, it’s that everyone has a different style of learning. If you need help, reach out. No matter how difficult things might seem, there are always people and programs available to students and survivors if they need help.