Returning to Work as a Cancer Survivor
During cancer treatment, it’s common to need time away from work. Getting back to your career once treatment is complete—or at any point in your cancer journey—is often a milestone to celebrate. But it can also take some getting used to. Here’s some advice to keep in mind.
Adjusting to the workplace
Going back to work can be physically and mentally challenging, especially if you are coping with side effects like fatigue, nausea or thinking and memory problems. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Pace yourself. Take short breaks to keep up your energy.
- Use a memory aid. Use lists or alarms if you have trouble remembering tasks.
- Accept help. It’s OK to accept help from others or to ask for it when you need it.
- Talk to your doctor. If you’re still getting treatment, ask your doctor or nurse what side effects you may have and how to manage them at work. For example, your doctor may be able to prescribe anti-nausea medications if needed.
Talking to co-workers
Your co-workers can be a good source of emotional and practical support. But how much you choose to share about your cancer experience is up to you. It can help to think about what you’d like to share before you’re put on the spot by questions or comments.
Some people are comfortable with explaining what kind of cancer they had and what treatments they needed. It may help to ask your supervisor or another co-worker to serve as your spokesperson, to share information without the need to repeat it yourself.
If you don’t want to share details, it helps to have a script in mind to deal with questions or unwelcome comments. You might offer a short acknowledgment before changing the subject to focus on work. For example:
- “I’ve had treatment, but I’m doing OK now.”
- “It’s been challenging, and I’m glad to be able to focus on work again.”
- “Thanks for your support. It means a lot to me.”
Asking for accommodations
Whether you’re continuing cancer treatment or adjusting to life in remission, you might need to change how you work and plan to take time off for medical care. If you’re coping with fatigue, you may need to work fewer or different hours. You might also have different physical needs, such as changes to your hearing or your ability to perform certain tasks.
Ask your healthcare team for advice on what types of changes might help. This may include:
Working a flexible schedule. Adjusting your schedule could mean working a different shift or fewer hours. Or it may help to work from home some days.
Doing your job in a different way. Doing your job differently doesn’t mean lowering your performance. But it could include taking breaks to take medicine, using special equipment or adjusting your tasks.
Let your supervisor or human resources department know what you need to do your job well. Chances are, your workplace will be happy to help you get back to work. It’s also worth knowing that federal laws may require some employers to make reasonable accommodations to help people with cancer keep working.
Support throughout your cancer journey
At Fox Chase, the support we offer you doesn’t end with your treatment. Our Survivorship Program is there for you through the years you spend as a cancer survivor. We’ll help you address the physical, mental, social, emotional and financial effects of cancer—including helping you return to your working life or other important activities.
To learn more about the Fox Chase Survivorship Program, call 888.369.2427 or request an appointment online.