Going to college with cancer presents numerous challenges. Students must balance academic expectations with the disease’s symptoms and treatment. Cancer survivors may experience difficulty in school due to lingering side effects and the disease’s mental stressors. Fortunately, learners attending college with cancer can take advantage of many resources to help them succeed academically.
This page provides resources for students attending college with cancer. Read on to learn about accommodations and to view an interview from a student with cancer. Learners can contact their school’s accommodations center to learn more about available resources.
The Reality of Attending College With Cancer
College students with cancer face many hurdles their peers do not experience. They may face fatigue, nausea, and concentration problems. Accommodations can help learners achieve their academic potential.
Learners going to college with cancer may feel fatigued from the disease or treatment. Fatigue makes it difficult to wake up on time, focus in class, and complete assignments. Accommodations for fatigue include priority scheduling, modified assessments, and frequent breaks.
Nausea and vomiting
Cancer treatments that include chemotherapy and radiation may cause nausea and vomiting. Feeling sick makes daily activities difficult. Students can lessen nausea and vomiting’s effects by requesting extra time to complete assignments. They may also view recorded lectures or ask a peer to take notes. Accommodations may change depending on symptoms’ severity or persistence.
Changes in Body and Appearance
Many college students feel self-conscious about their body and appearance. Learners going to college with cancer experience additional difficulty, especially if treatment leads to hair or weight loss. These visible symptoms may cause depression or social isolation. Many schools strive to help degree-seekers with cancer in college by providing free counseling or related services.
Memory or Concentration Problems
Dealing with cancer’s symptoms and treatment may lead to memory or concentration problems. Both can result in lower grades, increasing the chances of receiving academic probation or of dropping out of school. Students can avoid these outcomes by requesting accommodations for tests and other assignments. They may also ask for tutoring or copies of peers’ notes.
Location and Time Constraints
Students attending college with cancer must juggle medical appointments with their class schedule. The former always takes priority, making attending classes difficult. Learners should contact their school’s accommodations office to request recorded lectures, a modified assessment schedule, and time-management resources. These services can reduce stress and allow degree-seekers to focus on academics.
Accommodations in College
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates reasonable accommodations for students with a qualifying disability. Accommodations fall under one of five classifications, including modified classroom environment, learning aids, and different policies and procedures. Specific modifications vary by college. These may include deadline adjustments, testing arrangements, and transportation service.
Assignment Deadline Adjustments
An assignment deadline adjustment changes when professors expect students to complete a task. This modification allows degree-seekers additional time to finish projects, papers, and other assessments. Learners in college with cancer benefit from deadline adjustments, as they reduce the stress of scheduling schoolwork around medical treatments.
Students who receive accommodations for assignment due dates meet their professors during office hours to set new deadlines. Communication between learners and their professors throughout the semester ensures the accommodation’s success.
Access to Auxiliary Aids
Some students with cancer experience symptoms affecting their ability to communicate. Auxiliary aids refer to technology designed to assist learners with a speech, vision, or hearing disability. A school’s accommodations office may recommend an audio recording device, a designated notetaker, or recorded lectures.
Students with cancer benefit from auxiliary aids, as treatment sessions and symptoms make it difficult to attend classes at set times.
Testing accommodations allow students with cancer to demonstrate their proficiency with the subject material. Learners speak with their professors to discuss options. These options may include multiple assessment sessions or dictating answers to a peer. Degree-seekers may suggest other arrangements, depending on their symptoms or preferences.
Testing arrangements may need to change, so students should regularly communicate with their professors. The accommodations office may suggest additional adjustments, depending on students’ academic performance.
On-Campus Transportation Services
Students in college with cancer may need transportation services to travel between classes and attend their medical appointments. Options include public or private transportation. Learners may also ask a peer to drive them. This accommodation assists with the physical weakness many cancer patients report.
Students who receive transportation accommodations may need to speak with their school’s transit services department to explore different options. Learners should ask for a driver’s contact information to explain their situation.
Flexible Scheduling For Required Classes
Traditional courses use scheduled meeting times and beginning and end dates. Both may make attending college with cancer difficult. Fortunately, some schools offer flexible scheduling, meaning that learners select from multiple annual start dates. Other options include registering for courses in which professors give the same lecture in the mornings and afternoons.
Learners can explore flexible scheduling options on their school’s website. They should also inform professors that they may attend course sections they did not sign up for due to medical appointments or symptoms.
Distance Learning Options
Online and hybrid learning provides multiple advantages to students attending college with cancer. Many online courses run asynchronously, allowing learners to view recorded lectures and complete coursework at convenient times. Hybrid courses require some on-campus visits and may require degree-seekers to request additional accommodations.
College students with cancer can discuss online and hybrid options with their advisor. Even courses without an official online option may allow learners to view recorded lectures and work at their own pace.
How to Receive Accommodations
Students in college with cancer should first contact their school’s accommodations office to receive accommodations. They should also meet with a school advisor, submit an official request, and provide medical documentation. Colleges that approve learners’ requests provide them with documentation to show professors and other relevant school staff.
My Experience Having Cancer in College
Q. What Aspects of Your Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Interfere Most With Your Educational Goals, and How?
The main barrier was my neuro-oncologist being based in Dallas. Traveling took time, and I missed a lot of classes. My doctor is the greatest, and I couldn’t find an equivalent doctor.
I also struggled with disclosure. Who do I tell? How much should I reveal? I was afraid of being treated differently and forced to change my educational plans. My work was impacted, so I felt like I had to address it somehow. It’s tricky to navigate between what needs to be known and keeping things private. This was probably the biggest emotional stressor.
Q. How Did Your School Accommodate Your Needs During the Worst of It?
Getting accommodations was difficult. My undergraduate and graduate school administration and faculty wanted to help. However, due to the unique nature of my circumstances, they didn’t know how. Eventually, I secured reserved handicap parking and limited class hours. I also meet with professors on class specifics.
Q. Would You Recommend Any Support Groups For Students Dealing With a Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment?
Unfortunately, both my undergraduate and graduate institutions lack a support group for students with chronic illnesses. I received counseling services, but for community and to reach those with a shared experience, I went online. I really like Stupid Cancer.
Q. What Advice Would You Give Other Students Going Through This Journey?
Make sure to register with the appropriate offices. This is often the only way to receive accommodations. Professors generally won’t help if you’re not officially registered. Advocate for yourself. People want to help, but they can’t if you don’t tell them what you need. You know yourself and your journey best. Don’t let other people decide things for you.
Q. How Are You Doing Now?
Overall, I’m doing pretty well. I completed radiation and have monthly chemo doses. I’m not out of the woods yet. Over the past few months, I’ve had to re-learn how to walk. But thanks to some amazing physical therapists, I’m getting there. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to strengthen and will eventually become Dr. Roth.
Taylor Roth is a graduate student in clinical psychology. She was diagnosed with brain cancer during her first year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Though she is still fighting the disease, it does not stop her from baking, reading, and being crafty. After completing her Ph.D., Roth wants to work with children and families impacted by chronic illnesses.
Resources to Help Students With Cancer Succeed in School
On-campus and local counseling centers help people with different psychological needs, such as attending college with cancer. The accommodations office or school website should advertise these resources and provide contact information.
Cancer Support Groups
Cancer support groups assist people with cancer and cancer survivors dealing with lingering psychological effects. Group sessions help people find a community, share their experiences, and improve their mental health.
American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network
ACSCSN's online forum unites cancer survivors and caregivers. Forum topics include surviving cancer in the military, grieving a lost loved one, and providing emotional support to those in need.
Community Cancer Support Groups
Many people with cancer benefit from in-person support groups. The American Cancer Society's website provides a database of groups nationwide. Users can search by city, state, and cancer type. These groups connect individuals with other resources, such as guides covering treatment options.
Corporate Angel Network
CAN supports cancer patients by offering free transportation on corporate jets to treatment centers nationwide. These aircraft help patients without financial means or those living far away from major hospitals.
Cancer and Careers
College students and recent graduates with cancer need specialized resources to explore their career opportunities. The site connects users with guides on how to job hunt and work while undergoing treatment.
Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition
CFAC features a database of organizations providing financial assistance to individuals with different medical conditions, including cancer. Free guides cover how to receive community assistance and local advocacy groups.
U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
The office provides information on filing complaints, answers to frequently asked questions, and the history of civil rights in the U.S. educational system.
Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and the owner of Broderick Writer LLC. He creates study guides, informational websites, and blog posts for clients in the education field. Thomas is also a published author of over 20 short stories and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
See articles by Thomas