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Schooling in survivorship: Understanding caregiver challenges when survivors return to school

Objective: Schooling after treatment can hold challenges for survivors of childhood cancer and caregivers who may need to act as advocates on their behalf. This study seeks to understand caregiver experiences of survivor's school-related challenges. This understudied area is critical given the 85% survivor rate for those diagnosed with childhood cancer and the disproportionate risk of learning difficulties faced by those with brain tumor or who receive therapy that targets the central nervous system.

Methods: Affected caregivers participated in open-ended interviews addressing school experiences during survivorship. Following preliminary analysis using a grounded theory approach, interviewees and other stakeholders from education, medical, and foundation communities participated in focus groups. Member-check activities explored the validity of identified themes and a model derived from interview data describing schooling challenges during survivorship.

Results: Caregivers reported schooling-related experiences were often stressful and such stressors recurred during survivors' ongoing education. They reported a lack of appropriate knowledge among themselves, school staff, and clinicians about issues their survivor faced as well as concerns about communication and uncertainties about the processes required to attain appropriate services. These themes of knowledge, communication, and process issues were embedded within family approaches to coping with difficulties as well as the specific types of late effects each survivor faced.

Conclusions: The proposed model and clinical implications provide a foundation for future research and intervention development. Such work is needed to more effectively support survivors and their caregivers with difficulties that arise during schooling following treatment for childhood cancer. 

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