School, Study & Work

School, study and work are a big part of our lives and provide us with so much more than formal education or a source of income. They give us daily structure and routine, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and important social opportunities.

Many young people find that cancer disrupts study or work in some way, whether they continued these activities throughout treatment, needed to take some breaks or had to stop altogether. Regardless of your situation, the information here is all about helping you find your way forward and knowing how to access the many supports that are out there.

COMMON CONCERNS

Many young people find themselves facing new or ongoing challenges after treatment ends, and the thought of continuing, resuming or commencing study or work often raises a range of concerns. Some common concerns include:

  • Falling behind or not graduating with your friends or peers, and feeling as though it’s too hard/late to catch up
  • Not being able to study or work like you did before
  • Feeling that your goals and priorities have changed, but not knowing what you want to do or how to get there
  • Uncertainty about informing others (e.g. teachers/managers or peers/colleagues) of your diagnosis

These kinds of feelings and experiences are all very common and normal, and it’s important to know that regardless of situation or circumstance, advice and support is available should you want or need it.

It’s also important to remember that while cancer and its treatment can certainly throw a spanner in the works, this is a time of great change and growth in life in general- so be kind to yourself.

GETTING (BACK) ON TRACK

Below are some key steps to consider in planning and preparing for study or work after treatment:

  1. Establish your goals and plans
  2. Identify factors affecting your study or work capacity
  3. Access support to address your specific needs
  4. Establish your communication preferences
  5. Access education or workplace support
Even if you don’t think you need it, seeking out support with study or work as early as possible means you will have strong relationships with people and services that can assist if/when you do, and can go a long way to helping you achieve your education or employment goals (or design some new ones!)

1. ESTABLISH YOUR GOALS AND PLANS

Working out what’s important to you and what goals and priorities you want to focus on is an important first step. It could be finishing school, getting into a course, resuming work or finding a new job. You may be able to work this out yourself or you may need some support.

If you have yet to finish high school, please do not think this will prevent you from pursuing further education. There are many options available, including TAFE which offers a huge number of courses in a diverse range of fields. TAFE also provides a pathway into many university degrees and you can often receive credit for the TAFE study you have already completed.

You can pursue many careers in health, business, accounting, IT, marketing, design, the creative arts and more at either TAFE or uni. The answer to which is the best option for you often depends more on the features/quality of an individual course and what you want to get out of your study experience than it does on the type of institution you study with. You can also move across from TAFE to uni and vice versa, often with credit.

Consider alongside your career goals your needs and preferences around things like:

  • course length, cost and entry requirements
  • availability of scholarships, loans or other forms of funding support
  • approaches to teaching and learning (e.g. how much hands-on/practical training, classroom-based, online or self-directed study is involved)
  • availability of internships, work-integrated learning or other student programs
  • lifestyle factors (e.g. location and commute, social and recreational opportunities)

There are many private education and training providers who offer similar courses to TAFEs; however, their fees may be considerably higher and levels of accreditation may vary. Seek advice from one of the services below if you’re considering enrolment with a private college or other education and training provider.

GETTING HELP

  • Thinking Ahead: a guide to school, study and work for young people who have had cancer – information about working out your goals and priorities and the various options and pathways available
  • Youth Central – career profiles and planning, finding places to volunteer or do work experience and plenty of other great information for young people about all things study, work and more (NB: most content on this website is relevant nationally, but some information may be specific to those living in Victoria)
  • Career counselling services at your school, uni or TAFE (there may also be relevant state-based services available)
  • Your local Youth Cancer Service, CanTeen or Cancer Council may also be able to provide personalised advice

2. IDENTIFY FACTORS AFFECTING YOUR STUDY OR WORK CAPACITY

The impact of cancer and its treatment on study and work is highly individualised given every body responds differently and people have different education and employment types and demands.

It can be helpful to consider anything currently affecting your study or work- or that may affect it in future- in terms of the following five areas (click on each to see some of the common impacts and side effects that may affect work or study in some way):

  • Fatigue
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Pain or discomfort (e.g. swelling, scarring, tingling, numbness)
  • Changes to mobility (e.g. making it difficult to sit comfortably, take public transport, or access certain areas)
  • Changes to hand or arm function (e.g. making it difficult to write or type)
  • Changes to vision or hearing

  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Difficulties learning information or understanding things
  • Challenges with planning, organisation or time management
  • Struggles with writing or finding the right words to use
  • Trouble with socialising or keeping up with communication

  • Mood changes such as low mood, anxiety, persistent worry or sadness, anger, irritability, frustration or guilt
  • Changes to body image and/or loss of confidence
  • Reduced motivation

  • Changes in friendships or relationships
  • Feeling isolated, or avoiding friends or peers
  • Loss of interest in or difficulty doing things you used to enjoy

  • Stress or hardship around finances, housing or visas (for international students), all of which can affect study/work in many different ways

You may be experiencing some, none or many of these effects, or ones completely different from those described. The important thing to know is that there are a range of strategies and supports available to reduce or manage their impact on your life, so that you can get on with the pursuit of your work and study goals.

3. ACCESS SUPPORT THAT ADDRESSES YOUR SPECIFIC NEEDS

Write down any of the above (and other) impacts that you are experiencing or concerned about and raise them with your GP or treating team, along with any questions you may have about study and work post-treatment, such as:

  • Do I need to reduce my study/work load?
  • Are there any tasks or activities that I should avoid?
  • Are there any supports or modifications that should be implemented?

Your GP or treating team will be able to provide you with advice directly or refer you to specialist services as needed.

GETTING SUPPORT

  • Your healthcare team should be able to provide information for your school, uni, TAFE or employer that outlines the specific challenges you are experiencing (and can be used to assist in arranging support available at your work or place of study)
  • Occupational therapy, physiotherapy or exercise physiology can provide you with personalised strategies and advice for addressing physical needs and impacts
  • Check out the topics on ‘Exercise & Getting Active’ and ‘Diet & Nutrition’- you might be surprised by how much exercise and diet can influence a wide range of physical (and other) effects

  • Your healthcare team should be able to provide information for your school, uni, TAFE or employer that outlines the specific challenges you are experiencing (and can be used to assist in arranging support available at your work or place of study)
  • Occupational therapy or psychology may be helpful if you are needing more specific support
  • Check out the topic on ‘Fatigue’ for strategies and info relevant to managing cancer-related changes to thinking or learning
  • Also check out the topics on ‘Exercise & Getting Active’ and ‘Diet & Nutrition’- you might be surprised by how much exercise and diet can influence these and other impacts

  • Psychology or social work may be helpful if you need some additional support
  • Check out the topic on ‘Emotional Health & Wellbeing’ for strategies and info that can help with managing emotional impacts and the return to study or work
  • Check out the topic on ‘Relationships’ for advice and strategies on managing changes in relationships
  • Check out the video on body image for perspective on cancer-related changes to the way we see, think and feel about our bodies

  • Your work or place of study may have services available to assist you with addressing any practical challenges you are experiencing
  • Social work may be helpful if you need some additional support

4. ESTABLISH YOUR COMMUNICATION PREFERENCES

Whether, what and how you choose to tell others about your cancer experience is up to you, and there is no right or wrong approach.

There is also no law requiring you to inform your school, education provider or employer, unless it affects your ability to perform essential requirements or causes a health and safety risk to you or others (see resources at the end of this topic for more).

That said, being up front with your place of work or study about your diagnosis and any relevant side effects can be really beneficial:

  • It can reduce any stress associated with trying to keep it a secret
  • It can prevent assumptions or misunderstandings about the reasons behind any changes to your study or work capacity
  • It can allow for the implementation of ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help minimise any impacts you are experiencing (more on this below)

PRIVACY

It’s important to know that unless it poses a risk to you or others in some way, your education facility or employer cannot tell other people or otherwise share any health-related information you disclose to them without your consent.

TIPS

It’s likely you’ll need to acknowledge your experience in some way at school or work, be it when dealing with questions about things like changes in appearance or time spent away, or getting reasonable adjustments or other supports in place. For many young people this can feel incredibly daunting. It can be helpful to:

  • Practice what you want to say with family or close friends
  • Identify a key contact at school, TAFE, uni or work- someone you trust and feel comfortable with
  • Consider your communication preferences before returning to school, study or work and discuss them with your key contact:

WHO do you want to tell?

You may be happy for everyone to be informed, or prefer to keep it contained

WHAT do you want to tell?

You may feel comfortable sharing a lot of detail, or only the very basics (this could be as simple as saying you have a medical condition)

HOW do you want to tell?

You may want to tell your peers or colleagues yourself, or prefer someone else do this on your behalf (e.g. teacher, counsellor, advisor or manager)

FOR MORE TIPS AND ADVICE:

Check out the ‘Relationships’ topic and the ‘Strategies and Support’ section of Thinking Ahead: a guide to school, study and work for young people who have had cancer

5A. ACCESS EDUCATION SUPPORT

Many young people have reasonable adjustments made to their education or training during and after treatment, which are changes that aim to minimise the impact of cancer and its treatment on study and ensure you are not disadvantaged compared to other students. They are usually based on recommendations provided by your doctor or other health care professional to address your specific needs.

Schools and other education facilities are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for current and future students who meet the essential or (inherent) course requirements.

They are legally required to do this under laws such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), which defines disability broadly and includes cancer and treatment side effects that a person is currently experiencing, may experience in the future, or experienced in the past.

The term ‘disability’ is often used in the context of education support services and while it may not resonate with you, don’t be deterred- it simply refers to anything that may affect study capacity.

Below are some examples of reasonable adjustments in schools and TAFEs or universities.

SCHOOL

Talk to someone you trust (e.g. your teacher or year level coordinator) to see what reasonable adjustments can be made. These may include:

  • A gradual return to school where you increase your hours over time
  • Additional tutorial support and resources to assist you with understanding class content
  • Ensuring you are able to access everything you need to (e.g. classroom, toilets, cafeteria and locker)
  • Arranging appropriate equipment (e.g. assistive technology or specialised seating)
  • Having a key contact at school who relays information between you and your teachers and sends you class summaries, information and assessment tasks if you are unable to attend
  • Applying for special consideration
    for school-assessed coursework and end of year exams
  • Applying for special consideration for entry into TAFE or university courses

TAFE & UNI

TAFEs and universities all have student support services that are called different things at different institutions, but often include the terms disability, diversity, equity or access. The name may not resonate but don’t be deterred- these services are there to help negotiate and implement any reasonable adjustments you may need, such as:

  • Modifying assessment tasks (e.g. extensions for assignments, exam accommodations such as additional reading and writing time and rest breaks)
  • Adapting course delivery (e.g. by using scribes or Auslan interpreters)
  • Accessing additional support (e.g. tutorial support, extra study notes or research materials)
  • Providing equipment (e.g. assistive technology, ergonomic furniture or specialised seating)
  • Ensuring safe access to all buildings and amenities
It is recommended that you register with these services as early as possible- even if you don’t think you need them. It means you’ll already know who to call if you run into any issues, and quicker, easier access to any support required.

TAFEs and universities also typically offer a range of other services, which may include financial aid, employment and career advice, housing support and health services like GPs and counselling. Check with your institution to see what services they offer and how they can assist.

5B. ACCESS WORKPLACE SUPPORT

Many young people have workplace (reasonable) adjustments in place as they continue, resume or commence work after treatment, which are changes that aim to minimise the impact of cancer and its treatment on work capacity and ensure you are not disadvantaged compared to others in the workplace.

Employers are legally required to make workplace adjustments for any current or prospective employee able to perform the essential activities or inherent requirements of a job.

They are legally required to do this under laws such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), which defines disability broadly and includes cancer and treatment side effects that a person is currently experiencing, may experience in the future, or experienced in the past.

The term ‘disability’ is often used in the context of workplace support services and while it may not resonate with you, don’t be deterred- it simply refers to anything that may affect work capacity.

You also have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements (e.g. changes to hours, patterns or locations of work) under Australian National Employment Standards.

Workplace adjustments are usually based on recommendations provided by your doctor or other health care professional to address your specific needs, and may include:

  • Modified work schedule (e.g. gradual increase in the days and hours you work, time off for appointments and other medical reasons)
  • Adjustments to responsibilities and duties performed
  • Provision equipment (e.g. assistive technology, ergonomic furniture or specialised seating)
  • Ensuring safe access to all buildings and amenities

If you are already employed, it’s often beneficial to meet with a key contact
in your workplace before you return. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your communication preferences (see section 4 above) and any workplace adjustments you require, which are usually recorded in a return to work plan.

It is against the law for employers to discriminate against you directly or indirectly because of your health or health history. This includes harassment, bullying, intimidation or exclusion, or being disadvantaged in the workplace in some way (e.g. because of a policy or practice).

FAQ

If you are taking paid personal leave because you are unwell or attending medical reviews/scans, your employer may require one. The certificate does not have to mention cancer (for example, it can simply reference “a medical condition” or attendance at medical appointments).

There is no right or wrong answer, and you are not legally obliged to inform current or potential employers of your diagnosis unless it affects your ability to perform essential requirements of the job, or causes a health and safety risk to yourself or other people.

However, there can be a range of benefits to being honest and open about it, particularly if you need reasonable adjustments implemented. It can also reduce any stress associated with keeping your diagnosis a secret, and make it easier to work through any misunderstandings or explain the need for any sick or personal leave.

IN JOB INTERVIEWS:

This is a completely personal decision, but whatever explanation you decide to provide, it should be simple, clear and straight to the point (it can also be helpful to practice beforehand).

For example, some people say it was related to a health issue that has now resolved. If you take this approach, you may find it helpful to provide a letter from your doctor that states you are medically fit to work (it does not have to reference your diagnosis).

Alternatively, you could say you took a break to work out what it is you really want to do (which is obtain the position you are interviewing for!)

IN YOUR RESUME/CV:

Breaks can look less obvious if you structure it in terms of skills rather than employment history (Google skills-based resumes/CVs for examples of how to do this).

Disability Employment Services (DES) can assist people with disabilities to prepare for, find and keep a job that is suited to their level of function.

MONEY STUFF

Many young people and their families experience ongoing financial impacts after treatment ends. Social workers can help you navigate the supports that are available, but you may also want to check out the following for advice and assistance:

  • Centrelink (you may be eligible for disability or sickness payments, youth or mobility allowances, rent assistance or a healthcare card- a social worker can help)
  • Your local Cancer Council (including the Pro Bono Program for free financial and legal advice)
  • Financial aid services (offered at many TAFEs and universities, along with other services such as housing support and free health services like GPs and counselling)
  • Scholarships (most TAFEs and universities offer scholarships for those whose education or employment has been affected for a variety of reasons, including health conditions- it’s worth checking your eligibility with your education provider)
  • RedKite (offers education grants and financial assistance for up to 12 months after treatment ends for young people aged 0-18)
  • Christina Ghobadi Foundation (for grants to support wellbeing)
  • Utility Relief Grant Scheme (for help with utility bills- schemes are different for each state)
  • Patient Assisted Travel and Accommodation Schemes or PATS (help with costs associated with travel for appointments, scans etc depending on where you live- check the scheme for your state)

TOP TIPS & TAKEAWAYS

Getting back into study and work after treatment can be a big adjustment. Whatever your situation or circumstance, it can help to:

  • Know that it is normal to experience mixed emotions and have a range of concerns about work or study after treatment
  • Raise any concerns you have about side effects or other impacts with your GP or treating team as soon as possible- they will be able to provide you with advice and referrals that can help
  • Take some time to work out what’s important to you - your needs, goals and priorities
  • Ask for help (even if you don’t think you need it) - seek support early to figure out the path that is right for you and advocate for adjustments to your work or study plan if needed, now or in future
  • Prioritise your physical and emotional wellbeing - the importance of things like regular exercise, quality sleep and nutrition, and managing stress and worry cannot be underestimated.

USEFUL LINKS AND RESOURCES

Your study and work needs, goals and priorities are unique to you. School systems also vary state by state, as do many study and workplace supports and programs.

While the resources below are a good place to start, it’s often best to talk to someone who can help tailor information and support to you and your circumstances. Ask your GP or treating team for advice or referrals, contact your local youth cancer service, or speak with someone you trust at school, uni, TAFE or work.

  • Thinking Ahead: a guide to school, study and work for young people who have had cancer – essential reading on all things study and work both during and after treatment, including a great section on strategies and support
  • Your local youth cancer service – each Australian state has a team of health care professionals specialising in the cancer treatment and care of young people aged 15-25 that you can contact for help and advice (most have social workers, and some have a dedicated education and vocation advisor on staff)
  • CanTeen – offers a range of services for young people with a cancer experience, including personalised education and career support

Some additional resources and support services that you may also find helpful:

GOAL-SETTING AND PLANNING

Support services:

  • Course advisors or career counsellors at your school, uni or TAFE (there may also be relevant state-based services available)
  • Your local Youth Cancer Service, CanTeen or Cancer Council may also be able to provide personalised advice

Resources:

  • Thinking Ahead: a guide to school, study and work for young people who have had cancer – information about working out your goals and priorities and the various options and pathways available
  • Youth Central – career profiles and planning, finding places to volunteer or do work experience and plenty of other great information for young people about all things study, work and more (NB: most content on this website is relevant nationally, but some information may be specific to those living in Victoria)

EDUCATION ADVICE AND SUPPORT

Support services:

  • Your teacher, counsellor or year level coordinator at school, or student support services at your uni or TAFE (called different things at different institutions, but often include the terms disability, diversity, equity or access)
  • Relevant state-based services may be available (e.g. Skills and Jobs Centres in Victoria)
  • Your local Youth Cancer Service, CanTeen or Cancer Council may also be able to provide personalised advice

Resources:

EMPLOYMENT ADVICE AND SUPPORT

Support services:

Resources:

INTERVIEW SKILLS AND RESUMES/CVs

Support services:

  • Employment support services through TAFEs and universities (there may also be relevant state-based services
    available)

Resources:

  • Youth Central – resume writing tips, downloadable templates, interview advice and plenty of other great information for young people about all things study, work and more (NB: most content on this website is relevant nationally, but some information may be specific to those living in Victoria)

Media
Advice From Clinicians
Advice From Young People

Podcast