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Time to tackle cancer in the classroom

Monday 10 August, 2015

It’s time to tackle cancer in the classroom with Cancer Council Victoria urging all schools to access a new national guide on how best to support a growing number of students, families and staff affected.

Whether it’s a parent, teacher or student diagnosed with cancer, schools can play a key role in supporting all those affected. Launched today, Cancer in the School Community (PDF 1.2MB) is a new, national guide that helps primary and secondary school staff respond effectively and sensitively to a cancer diagnosis. It may also be useful for parents, students and family members.

In Australia, about 1000 school-age children develop cancer every year. There are also more than 120,000 adults diagnosed with cancer each year. About a third of those are under 60, and many will have a school-aged child.

Cancer Council Victoria Director of Support Services Nicola Quin said when anyone in a school community is diagnosed with cancer it is natural for those around them to want to help, but many people can be unsure of where to start.

“It is important to remember that every cancer journey is different, and each person navigates that journey in their own way. For example, 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.

“Talking about cancer is never easy, and many people feel concerned about saying the wrong thing. This new Cancer Council publication provides guidance on the best approach for discussing such issues in and around the classroom, including what’s appropriate for different age groups.”

When Kathy Porter’s son Callum was diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2014 at age nine, being at school allowed him a sense of normality while undergoing cancer treatment.

“Callum’s school has been really supportive. The nature of his treatment has meant he’s missed quite a bit of time in the classroom, but an aid teacher visits once a week for some one-on-one help.”

“School’s been great for the whole family. For Callum and his twin brother Zack to be able to head off to school together has allowed them both to get on with doing the things normal young boys do at what can otherwise be a challenging time.”

When primary school teacher Marea Casey was diagnosed with breast cancer there were many delicate conversations to have: with her children’s school, with her colleagues, as well as with her students.

“My number one priority was: how will my children cope? I discussed my diagnosis with their school, and they were fantastic. There were offers of practical support, like providing meals, but knowing my children’s welfare came first mattered most. Back then, I didn’t have a guide on how to work through those challenging conversations and that’s exactly what I was looking for at the time.”

The guide also covers:


  • respecting privacy
  • picking up on signs of distress
  • how teachers can share their news in a classroom
  • ongoing school attendance and performance
  • telling students about a classmate
  • teasing and bullying
  • students or teachers returning to school after a diagnosis or treatment
  • bereavement.
Download the guide (PDF 1.2MB), or call 13 11 20 for more information.