Continuing to study on treatment

Getting a diagnosis when you're starting, or already in, college or university can be difficult. The good thing is that there are people and services that can help to minimise the disruption and keep your education on track - if you feel up to it.

From the day you're diagnosed you have important legal rights. You should always be able to ask for the support you need to continue with education and fulfil your potential. 

What support you could get to carry on studying

You may worry that having cancer will stop you going to college or university or from having these experiences, but even with a cancer diagnosis, you should be able to continue your studies or return to complete your course after treatment

Support from your college or uni can include many different things, for example:

  • Recognising you may need time off for hospital appointments and treatment
  • Extra time for coursework and extensions to deadlines if you have fatigue or need to work at a different pace
  • Access to scribes or note takers
  • Somewhere to leave stuff you'd normally have to carry around
  • Arrangements for special dietary needs, for example being allowed to keep food in a fridge or eat snacks during classes
  • Flexibility in attendance and punctuality when you go for hospital appointments and treatment
  • Supervised rest breaks during exams
  • Communication with staff during periods you're away
  • Staff awareness of cancer and its impact (whilst keeping information about your own situation confidential, if you prefer).

Make the most of your rights

The Equality Act protects disabled people from being treated unfairly. You automatically meet the Equality Act definition of 'disabled' from the day you're diagnosed. Under the Act, colleges in England, Scotland and Wales must not discriminate against disabled students. In Northern Ireland you have similar rights under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO).

Colleges also have to make 'reasonable adjustments' - like those listed above - so that disabled students are not disadvantaged. They have a legal duty to make changes to make sure courses are accessible to you, as a student with cancer.

How to access help

You need to tell your place of education about your diagnosis before they can put support in place. It's your choice if and when you tell people, but doing this early will allow for more time to get things organised.

You should be able to have a confidential discussion with the staff member responsible for disability. This person is usually called the learning support adviser, inclusive learning coordinator or disability adviser. You can usually request an initial appointment over the phone or by email.

You can have this discussion at any time – when you're first diagnosed, if you need time off from the course or when you return. The college should ask your views on what support and adjustments would be helpful. 

Arrange a ‘needs assessment’

Some colleges and universities will arrange a more formal needs assessment. This is a face-to-face meeting with someone who understands how to support students with health conditions. The assessor can make extra recommendations – with your agreement – and write a report that says what support you need.

In England and Wales, if you have a cancer diagnosis and have a special educational need, you may also have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment. The resulting EHC plan will look at all the needs you have regarding education, health and care up to the age of 25. The plan can be shared with the college to help them provide the necessary support.

Get specialist equipment

If you need specialist equipment, the college should be able to loan it to you to use on campus. For example, they might provide you with a digital recorder for classes.

Sometimes there might be extra costs to employ support workers, note-takers and mentors. However, you can generally expect this to be covered by the college or university’s Learning Support budget.

Keeping people updated

Good communication is really important. It's vital your college or university understands the impact of your illness and encourages you to fulfil your potential during and after treatment. You can always ask your hospital team for support with this.

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.