Getting back into the college life...

To preface this, I was approximately one year away from getting my undergrad when I was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare and particularly aggressive form of blood cancer that required treatment immediately upon discovering the disease. I was two weeks into my last year of school when I had to withdraw for obvious medical reasons.

So, it's been six months since my last chemo treatment (I received Hyper-CVAD with sixteen intrathecal methotrexate lumbar punctures). Now, I suffer from side effects such as depression, fatigue, severe migraines, and general anxiety but I am still very eager to get back in the saddle and continue pursuing my education. I don't plan on enrolling until the fall of 2013, however, I'm still very apprehensive that the side effects from which I now suffer will have an adverse effect on me in any type of academic environment in which I might soon find myself.

Has anyone else found themselves in similar circumstances? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


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  • I had just begun a master's degree program when I got my diagnosis. I had to take a full year off and then about another 8 months at a half time workload. Even then, my first full load semester back was tough. I had to go back to basics on the study skills and bust my tail in ways I've never had to. I am trying to finish up this semester.

    SIXTEEN intrathecal chemo doses? Ugh. One was more than enough for me. Not that it hurt...the nurse who did it was great and it didn't hurt. But that more than anything I actually went through made me nervous as all getout. The discussions about whole brain radiation freaked me out more, but since I didn't actually get them, I only went through that freakout once, followed by relief when I was told I would not get that treatment.
  • I was in almost the exact same boat as you. I was about to enter my junior year of my undergrad when I was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive lymphoma. I received treatment every day for a week and then every other day for the next two. It was a crazy regiment and other than the migraines, have the same side effects as you. I finished chemo in January of this year and had a massive surgery in April. I started school this fall taking a relatively light load (14 hours) and so far it hasn't been as bad as I expected at all. I am also playing softball at my school (Division 3 so not crazy intense, but still hard). Overall I have found my fatigue, anxiety, and depression annoying but not debilitating. I have found that I must make time for at least 7 hours of sleep at night, not to mention an hour nap on particularly busy days. Managing my time better in general has been important. I have also had some issues with chemo brain. Studying is harder and I can't retain information like I used to. I can get everything done but I can't procrastinate like I used to. The biggest thing I have noticed is that working out helps my fatigue, anxiety, and depression A LOT. The days I don't get a workout in I can really tell the difference. I still prescribed Ativan which helps quite a bit when I get overly stressed. Overall, my first semester back has been hard but not as awful and scary as I expected.
  • So, on that note, are your professors a little more understanding? And do you get any added time on assignments? Also, were either of you eligible for scholarships through any cancer-related associations? And if so, which ones do you recommend?
  • You can check the site for scholarships and things like that. This is the direct link to the page:
  • My professors are extremely understanding, but I do go to a small liberal arts school where classes are small and personal relationships with teachers are easy. I haven't needed extra time so far but I know most schools have a disability office where you can register and get extra time on tests. However, I don't think they allow you to change due dates. I think that is something you will have to work out with your teachers. I actually didn't try to get any cancer related scholarships as my academic ones pretty much cover everything, so I can't say anything about those.
  • My professors have been great. I am at a smallish public university, but as a graduate student, it's almost a requirement for me to develop relationships with my profs.

    Yes, the disability office can ensure you get extra time for tests, note-takers (if you have trouble with that sort of thing), and other types of help. The disability office at my university was ill-equipped to handle my needs, however. None of the assistance they offered really addressed the needs I had, (and still do to some extent), which mostly consist of poor memory. When I asked them if they'd be able to help me figure out how to remember things, they gave me blank looks and scratched their heads. I ended up getting personal assistance from one of my professors at the time.

    I didn't seek any scholarships. I was just too busy with my thesis stuff to take the time to write applications for them. They would have helped, for sure. I tried filling out the university's scholarship application and that was a disaster. It was so poorly written that it wouldn't have helped me AT ALL. It was supposed to be for both graduate and undergraduate students, but it asked about high school academic performance and had no place for me to include information about my own undergraduate performance. I began grad school 9 years after finishing high school, so it the high school crap really relevant? There was nowhere for me to include any sort of relevant work or volunteer experience, either. So the entire scholarship application would have been based on old information? No thank you.
  • Getting back to school after treatment was hard for me but oh so necessary. I made sure to take a lighter than normal course load (with normal being 16-19 credits) I aimed for 13 credits in more simple classes. It took me the first semester back to get into the swing of things again, but it did wonders for my sanity to be around new people who didn't necessarily know my background. Look at what your school has to offer, whether it's tutoring, counseling, or seminars on note-taking, they probably have something. Take advantage of what your school offers and don't get discouraged if your grades aren't what they were before you left.
  • I just wanted to share that I recently completed my first semester back at school after taking a year off for chemo and surgery and I managed to pull all A's! I am still in shock that after such a crazy year I was able to accomplish this, I could not be happier!
  • Dalia FDalia F Community Member
    I found going back to school a bit difficult but not as hard as I imagined. The disabilities office was very helpful, but also just talking to your professors is probably a good idea, they can often help more with any problems or concerns you may have. What was more difficult for me was not academics but social situations. Fatigue prevented me from going out a lot of the time and limited the extracurriculars I could join, and general anxiety made social situations a lot more difficult. I found it to be sort of isolating.