For parents of a child with cancer, classroom germs a source of worry


Lyric’s cancer and its treatment have weakened her immune system. A common childhood cold or flu could land her in the hospital. Photo courtesy: Agullana family.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably gotten up in the middle of the night to find your child hot, sweaty and crying with discomfort. You take your little one’s temperature and find that he or she has a high fever. You then keep your child home from school the next day, hope that it’s not the flu, and expect the fever to go down with a few days of rest.

But when Lyric Agullana gets sick, her parents can’t just hope her fever gets better with rest.

Last year, at 4, Lyric was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of cancer seen in children.

Both the leukemia and its treatment, which includes chemotherapy, weaken the immune system, which means flu season is a constant source of worry for her parents, Tina and Nick.

“When Lyric gets a fever, we have to check her blood counts to make sure her body’s immune system is strong enough to fight the germs off,” Tina said. “If it’s not (usually due to chemotherapy destroying the good cells and everything else) she gets a visit to the hospital for at least 48 hours to get infused through an IV with antibiotics and fluids to make sure there are no organisms there that normal kids can fight off with no problem, but kids going through chemo just cannot.”

After Lyric was diagnosed, she was taken out of school to begin chemotherapy. Although she missed out on sharing new experiences with all her classmates, she has gotten through many “firsts” as a cancer patient at Kapiolani Hospital for Women & Children.


Lyric poses with the family dog. The kindergartner has been embraced by her classmates, who learned about her leukemia from her doctor. Photo courtesy: Agullana family.

This school year was a chance for Lyric to start kindergarten again, after her diagnosis. Her parents had the same anxious first-day-of-school feelings they had last year, but with twice the number of worries. How would the other kids react to Lyric’s baldness? How would the teacher treat a child going through chemotherapy? What about germs from her classmates?

To help ease Lyric’s transition, Tina and Nick invited one of Lyric’s doctors, Dr. Carrie, to educate their child’s class about leukemia, chemotherapy and of course, germs.

Here’s some of the information that was shared with Lyric’s class:

• Leukemia is not contagious. This assured the children that they will not get Lyric’s illness by being around her.

• Cancer and chemotherapy treatment can weaken the body’s immune system. Dr. Carrie explained the importance of personal hygiene like hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough to keep from spreading germs.

• Leukemia patients may bruise or bleed easily. Dr. Carrie emphasized the importance of playing nicely. The children were reminded to practice using their words if they’re upset, instead of hitting.

The children soaked up the information like sponges, Tina and Nick said. Armed with a new perspective on their friend’s health, Lyric’s classmates are now always working together to create a clean and safe classroom environment.



Jovelle Agustin-Tes is a mother of two and a military wife. She was born and raised in Hawaii. She enjoys traveling (and is currently exploring Asia) and living an active lifestyle.

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