Each year in Australia, about 1,000 school-age children and more than 127,000 adults are diagnosed with cancer. About a third of those adults are under 60, and many will have a school-aged child.
For a school, discussing this topic can be a difficult task. While teachers and principals are versatile in their roles, they are not psychologists, and as such can experience great unease and uncertainty when approaching this topic with children in the classroom.
However, a new resource launched by a Cancer Council this week will provide schools with expert knowledge and practical advice to ensure no member of a school community has to face cancer alone.
The Cancer in the School Community resource explains how school staff can support their community throughout all stages of cancer.
Cancer Council NSW Cancer Support Services Manager, Lauren McAlister, said the resource offers expert knowledge and practical advice to ensure no member of a school community has to face cancer alone.
“Every school is a community, a network of relationships connecting students and caregivers with principals, teachers and other school staff,” McAlister said.
“It is important to remember that each cancer journey is different and every individual navigates it in their own way.”
For example, says McAlister, some people might wish to keep details private, while others will welcome the chance to speak openly about it and are keen to make use of support.
“When anyone in a school community is diagnosed with cancer, people usually want to help but may not be sure where to start,” she said.
“Cancer in the School Community provides guidance on the best approach for discussing cancer in and around the classroom and tips on communicating with people of all ages about cancer.”
Caroline Powell Senior Psychologist-Education, Freshwater Senior Campus, located in NSW, said it is rare to find a school community that has not been affected by cancer in some way.
“The school is a key source of support and stability for students, families and staff members, but sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond when faced with difficult questions about cancer,” Powell said.
“This resource makes cancer a conversation not a sentence.”
Powell encouraged schools across Australia to use the free resource so they can sensitively deal with the impact that a cancer diagnosis has on not only those who are directly affected, but also the wider school community.
“The resource provides so much valuable information, from simple ways to explain what cancer is and how it is treated, to advice on how to share difficult news in the classroom,” she said.
Cancer in the School Community is relevant for all primary and secondary school staff throughout Australia and may also be useful for parents, students or family members.