Getting back to work after cancer treatment

With the proper planning, returning to work after cancer treatment doesn’t have to be a difficult transition.

If you are thinking about returning to work after cancer treatment, you aren’t alone. Over 70 percent of Americans go back to their job after they’ve completed treatment. Sometimes, cancer patients make the decision because of income or health insurance needs. Others are looking for a sense of normalcy and routine. With the proper planning, returning to work doesn’t have to be a difficult transition. 

A number of job-related questions may be running through your mind before heading back to work. Elaine Smith, Mind-Body Therapist at our Atlanta hospital, says patients’ concerns vary from person to person. “Patient worries can run the gamut from fear of acceptance to concerns about being a good worker and colleague and more,” she says. While it is normal to worry about returning to the workplace, it is important to manage your anxiety or stress throughout the process.

Returning to work after cancer may also have a number of benefits. You may find that you rediscover a sense of accomplishment, boosting your self-esteem. Going to work may also help you reestablish a daily routine, and it may provide opportunities to reconnect with colleagues and friends.  You may also look forward to taking on interesting and challenging projects.

Tips for returning to work

The following tips may help make your return to work a little easier:

Know your rights: Read up on employment-related laws, including the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you are returning to work, you may have taken time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to a serious health condition.

Be open with your HR representatives: Developing open lines of communication with your company human resources department during and after treatment may help clear up expectations for both parties. You may also want to discuss options for flexible work arrangements, such as part-time hours, telecommuting, job sharing or reassignment to another position. It is also important to discuss your treatment schedule or any follow-up medical appointments, and how to work around them.

Check in with your boss: Consider setting up frequent meetings with your manager to evaluate your transition and make any necessary adjustments. Discuss your workload, and identify high-priority projects to help you be more productive and meet expectations.

Talk with co-workers: You should decide ahead of time how much you want to share with your co-workers about your health status. It may help to plan ahead and anticipate how to handle their reactions and questions. If your physical appearance has changed, people may openly ask about your health, so being prepared will give you time to determine how to respond.

Manage side effects: Cancer and cancer treatment may cause side effects, such as, fatigue, nausea and pain. Returning to work may also cause stress and anxiety. Any of these side effects may affect your job performance, so it is important to address these issues as early and proactively as possible. Integrative care services, such as nutrition therapy, pain management and naturopathic medicine, may help you manage cancer-related side effects, before, during and after your cancer treatment, so you can better maintain your strength and stamina.