Megan's book of hope
WHEN MEGAN Blunt was diagnosed with cancer, there wasn't time to say goodbye to her school friends. She was whisked off to hospital in November 2004. When she returned, friends bombarded her with doom-laden questions: would her hair fall out? Was she going to die? Teachers were nervous about how to treat her.
The experience has prompted 14-year-old Megan to write a book for schools.
Ten children are diagnosed with cancer every day, so most schools are affected.
The A-Z, called Chemotherapy, Cakes and Cancer, is aimed at older pupils and their teachers and is remarkable for presenting the illness in an uplifting way. Punctuated with jokes, it explores everything from hospital stays to keeping in touch with friends.
In the book, Megan writes: "When you tell people you have cancer, you get told hundreds of stories about when their friendrelationneighbour had cancer. Most of these will have unhappy endings, like 'they died'. But don't worry, nearly eight out of 10 children recover." She also relates how she dealt with being asked by classmates if she was going to die. "My reply was, 'Yes, one day, but not until I am very old!' "
Megan, helped by her mother, Heather, a teacher (pictured with her below), also included a recipe for the cake she ate when her treatment gave her mouth ulcers.
The illustrations are by cartoonist Chris Burke, whose son Nathaniel made friends with Megan when they were both being treated for bone cancer.
Nathaniel, 10, died in August last year. The book has been dedicated to him.
Megan, who is now in remission, said her school made a real effort to accommodate her during her illness. "They didn't know anything at all about how to deal with it," she said, "so while I was still being treated I came in to give some assemblies. Many people reacted badly when I told them I had cancer and I wanted to present it in a positive light."
Ben Abbott, Megan's head of year at St Martin's school in Shenfield, Essex, said dealing with pupils undergoing treatment can be hard. "It's not taught as part of the PGCE and you feel right in at an emotional deep end," he said. "Your gut reaction might be to back off and not get involved.
"It is hard to explain to pupils, who connect cancer with death. But Megan's assemblies opened our eyes to the support she needed. Her book will do the same."
Megan has been back full-time since September and teachers keep an eye out for bouts of tiredness.
Christine Bickers, a social worker for cancer charity CLIC Sargent, gives talks in schools. "We use puppets and role-play to explain what a child has been through," she said. "I explain that you cannot catch cancer and that although their classmate may look different, they are the same on the inside."
To download the book, go to www.clicsargent.org.uk
WHEN A CHILD IN YOUR CLASS IS DIAGNOSED
Remember every family and child is different and may have different feelings about school involvement.
Offer to meet the child's family to find out their wishes.
Read up on the child's condition.
Think about arranging for a care professional, or even the child, to give an assembly in school.
Stay flexible: when the child returns it may only be for an hour at a time.
Stay in touch and encourage pupils to take an interest. Set up a message box so classmates can send notes to their friend in hospital.
Call the Child Cancer helpline for advice on 0800 197 0068.