The Learning Doesn't Need to Stop

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Being a teenager is complicated enough without adding cancer into the mix.

Christina O'Bryan, now 18, was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2005, about a month after becoming a teenager. The Lancaster resident began treatment immediately and couldn't return to public school because her immune system would not be up to the challenge while undergoing treatment.

Keeping up with schoolwork was difficult, but Christina graduated from Virtual Community School Ohio, an online charter school, last spring.

Christina said she couldn't have done it without the help of teacher Tifanie Rose. Rose is a Columbus City Schools teacher who works with long-term patients at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where O'Bryan is still a patient.

Rose said people often feel that school is the last thing a child receiving cancer treatment should worry about.

"What they don't understand is that it provides children with a hope for the future, while promoting a sense of normalcy during a scary and chaotic time," Rose said.

Christina said it's difficult to do schoolwork when you don't feel well. Treatment side effects she's experienced include hair loss, nausea, weakness and pain. She also was paralyzed for a year after receiving her first type of chemotherapy.

"I'd sit down with the books and help her," said Lisa O'Bryan, Christina's mother. "A lot of times, I would write for her because she couldn't even hold a pencil."

Christina tried home instruction, tutors and online schooling. She caught up on schoolwork during summer breaks, when needed. She returned to Amanda-Clearcreek High School for a few months during the ninth grade, hoping to feel normal again.

"You can't be a normal kid when you're going to school wearing a mask you know, kids say stuff," Christina said. "I had to wear the mask. What is something little to them could kill me."

Christina said she's made new friends and lost some as well. "You lose friends that you thought were your friends forever," she said.

Despite the obstacles, Christina said it felt amazing to graduate.

"I'm proud of her," her mother said. "I've always been real supportive of her. And I've never lied to her. She's known from day one what she's had."

Lisa O'Bryan said she feels it's also important to let children going through cancer treatment take time to have fun. "It can't be all school, school, school, or you'll drive yourself crazy," O'Bryan said.

Christina encourages children to continue pursuing their goals. "If you set your mind to it," she said, "you can do it."

How cancer treatment affects schoolwork

Cancer treatment can affect learning. Students who used to earn A's might work very hard to earn C's. They may have trouble reading, keeping up with new material, figuring out math problems, planning, organizing and paying attention.

Despite this, cancer treatment and cancer typically do not affect creativity and the ability to learn through hearing.Source: American Cancer Society website