By Kendal Temple, RN, a nurse in Children’s Hematology/Oncology Program
After a long absence due to cancer, it can be hard for young patients to return to school–especially if they look different or can’t play the way they used to. Although most of the time they’re thrilled to be going back to school and seeing their friends, many children are also nervous. To help these kids during the transition, Children’s developed the Back to School program. A nurse and a Child Life specialist visit the patient’s school and educate the classmates on what the patient has been going through. By creating a place where classmates can ask questions and air concerns, these visits help alleviate anxiety and encourage the sensitivity of everyone at school.
This past year, I worked with RJ Agostinelli, a vivacious young man who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, at age 11. He missed seven months of elementary school while having chemotherapy. In May, Child Life Specialist Sarah Sullivan and I went with RJ to his first day back at Joyce Kilmer Upper School school in West Roxbury. For half an hour, we told his classmates about RJ’s diagnosis and explained what cancer is, but more importantly, RJ answered his classmates’ questions – and there were many, from “Is it hard to have cancer?” to “What’s your favorite video game?” It was such an honor to watch him transition for being so ill to being back in the classroom, surrounded by his friends.
Here’s RJ on his first day back at school.
Below, watch the video that the Back to School program shows to classrooms that are too far away for an in-person visit.