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Back to Work After Cancer? What To Do?

Home >> Blogs >> Cancer Care Oncology Medical Oncology >> Back to Work After Cancer? What To Do?

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November 17, 2016 0 29 5 minutes, 16 seconds read

Returning to work after cancer is no easy feat! For some survivors, it is important to jump right back on the wagon, to prove you are in control, while for others it might be tempting to postpone work indefinitely.

Facing a job can be stressful, nerve cracking and exhausting. It might seem impossible especially after battling cancer- finally, the day comes when the treatment for cancer is finished.  

The good news is that you are returning to work! An intense mix of thoughts and emotions surrounding your work is normal and understandable.

What is Chemo Brain?

With the long-term effects of chemotherapy still being researched, many patients experience what is called as chemo brain years afterward. It is a cognitive impairing side effect that makes you feel foggy and makes simple tasks like following a book or recalling difficult.

How do you feel returning to work?

Many people welcome this change because they are happy to return to normality, have a sense of identity, pay cheques etc, while others find it really tough going back to work. They struggle to fit in again, concentrate on tasks, feel fatigued and hampered by chemo-brain.

It becomes difficult to explain that they are not alone in experiencing this. It entirely depends on how your work and health interacts, depending on the length and type of treatment, the stress level in your job or the quality of your support system. The only thing you should emphasize on is taking care of yourself to maximize your recovery. The better you feel, the better you will be able to meet your responsibilities both at work and at home.  

Few things you can do like:

  • Schedule Doctor Appointments as per convenience:  It is possible that the cancer doctor can arrange your appointment during the workdays that can hamper your routine. To minimize this disruption, patients who get radiation treatments, should schedule their appointments early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Also, some patients can get their chemotherapy treatment on Fridays so that they can be home over the weekend if they feel weak.


  • Set professional Boundaries: Saying NO might not come easy to you but it is important to figure out what are your limits especially when you are juggling between both with work and cancer recovery. In personal life, it is very easy to say that you need time for yourself and need to be left alone. However, in work culture, one often finds hard to find productive ways to communicate your limits. Learning to set the boundaries on the job might enable you to decline certain types of requests such as staying late for non-essential tasks or assignment of new projects. You must figure out how to become a better employee so that you are not burdened with extra work and you won’t feel trapped everytime your whereabouts are concerned.

For example:
“I appreciate that you thought of me for this project but I’m a bit swamped this week, and am concerned about my ability to get this back to you in a timely manner.

For more support in identifying what triggers your limits consider talking to a social worker who can also help you craft personalized language to communicate your needs at work.

  • Recasting yourself after Cancer: A common fear for people returning to their same job/company following a diagnosis or treatment is that they will be seen as the “cancer girl” or “cancer boy” in the office forever and that that will hold them back. You may be wondering things such as:

- Will your office always see you as a person with cancer?

- How do you get your workplace to see you as a professional you are rather than someone who has/had cancer?

- Is there a nice way to say “please stop bringing it up”?

Being able to swivel the conversation back to a place where you feel comfortable is empowering and helps to reset the view your colleagues have of you. It’s also important to remember that it may take time to recast yourself in the eyes of your workplace. Try not to get frustrated and to remember the more you focus on work the more everyone else will follow your lead.

What to do when you are Back to Work?

After your medical leave is over, gear up for the next challenge: making your re-entry to your job as comfortable as possible. For cancer survivors, returning to work often brings mixed emotions: relief, trepidation, hope — and perhaps awkwardness. Even if you are sure you’re ready to return, you may worry: Will you encounter skepticism or support? Dr. Ranga Rao says, that depends partly on how you approach the situation. Here are some suggestions for smoothing the transition from cancer patient back to valued employee.

Follow Your Style - If you’re naturally talkative and share information easily, you’ll probably want to update co-workers and your boss on your recovery. If you’re more private, just tell everyone you’re doing fine and let it go at that.

Get up to Speed - It is important to feel confident again about your job abilities. How do you do so?

  • Test your psyche.Psychologically speed up your work. If you are feeling below par, you might seek one on one counselling from a social worker or a  therapist, or join a support group of other cancer patients.
  • Evaluate your readiness to work-Are you ready to come back full-time or part-time? If part-time sounds more feasible, consider what accommodations you will need. Do mornings work better, or afternoons?
  • Attend workshops or seminars to refresh your skills.
  • Attend industry events to keep your knowledge up-to-date

Make a Plan - Once you’ve decided whether you are fit to return full-time or part-time, make a schedule, see if it fits your employer’s need and then prepare to follow it.

Take a look at your workstation - Does it need to be redesigned or fitted with equipment such as back support or other devices to make you more comfortable? Focus on the work itself, even if catching up means tending to tedious tasks such as returning a boatload of telephone calls or tackling a mountain of mai

Write down your priorities, make a plan and get yourself going at work.


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