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7 Tips for Working During Cancer Treatment

June 08, 2023

Following a cancer diagnosis, you’ll be grappling with all the ways your life will be affected. One of your first questions might be how the cancer and its treatment will impact your ability to work.

Depending on the type of cancer you have and what you do for a living, your might have to take time off from work. Your care team will help you determine what’s best for your own situation.

But if you plan to keep working, these tips can help make your life easier:

Let Your Family and Friends Help

Accepting help is often hard for people – particularly men. But family and friends can play a key role in helping your work life by assisting you with everyday chores that sap your time and energy.

Start by making a list of those tasks. Then, when someone asks if there is anything they can do to help, you’ll be ready. Maybe you need someone to take your dog to the groomer, handle lawn care or do your grocery shopping. Having a set of concrete ideas will make it easier to offload some of these chores.

Reach Out to Human Resources

You’ll need to have a strong understanding of your company’s policies on sick time, paid time off, flexible scheduling and the Family Medical Leave Act. The best way to do this is to talk with your company’s human resources department -- sooner rather than later.

This conversation can help you organize your work life and plan for contingencies. You may not need it, but you should know if your company has some type of disability insurance.

Think Before Telling Your Boss or Coworkers

Human resources has a legal obligation to keep your health situation confidential, so consider how much you want to tell your boss or coworkers, knowing there are legal protections in place for sick employees.

Plan for Your Treatment

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how you will react to your treatment. There are people who receive aggressive treatments without their coworkers having any idea. But it’s also possible that chemotherapy or radiation treatments will leave you fatigued at times. Talk with your care team to get a reasonable idea of what to expect and then plan accordingly.

If you expect to have severe symptoms over a four- to six-week period, do what you can to plan your work accordingly. You might schedule major deadlines differently, avoid taking on extra work duties during that time, ask coworkers for help or even cut back on work hours. You can also consider scheduling your treatment around work. For example, if your treatments are likely to make you tired, schedule them late in the day rather than the morning.

Discuss Your Job with Your Doctor

Your doctor and other care providers may have ideas to make your work life easier. Options include prescribing anti-nausea medication and scheduling treatments before you have a couple days off work.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy Life

Make room for the things in your life that lift your spirits and bring you joy. Go fishing, spend time at church, meet up with friends or volunteer with a favorite organization. Recharging your batteries will help you cope with the treatment, relieve depression and keep you energized at work.

Your Most Important Job

For some people, a job is simply a way to pay bills and provide the things they need in life, making it easy to prioritize their health over their jobs.

For others, however, their job is an integral part of life, bringing both purpose and identity. For these folks, having to miss work to deal with a serious health issue takes away their social network and the satisfaction they get from the work they do.

If you fall into the second group, remember that the most important job you have is protecting your health. Once that’s done, your work life will be there waiting.

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