Finding Stability

Life After Cancer Includes Going Back to Work

Life after cancer probably involves going back to work. Think about what accommodations you need and talk openly with your employer to help meet these needs.

When treatment is successful and you’re officially cancer-free, it’s time to figure out your life after cancer. That could include getting back to your old job, exactly the way it was, or a whole new career path. There are some tough realizations you may need to face depending on how you left (or continued) your job during cancer treatment, as well as how you have recovered from your treatment. Here are some things to keep in mind before you pack your briefcase again.

Evaluate Whether You’re Ready to Work

Truth is, you may not be physically, mentally or emotionally strong enough to go back to your work full steam as soon as treatment ends, although financially, you’re probably eager. To test whether you can perform your previous work schedule, pick a day and do a complete trial run of your typical work day including getting dressed and ready for work, your commute, the meals, the hours away from home and the activities involved. It’s perfectly normal if you find you’re physically struggling with the after-effects of treatment and/or mentally struggling with the effects of chemo brain, as the American Cancer Society explains. You may need more time to heal or to make some adjustments to your routine.

Determine How to Work With Your Employer

Having a good relationship with your employer is a key in meeting your after-cancer work schedule and needs. According to the Family Medical Leave Act, your employer must hold your job while you take 12 weeks of unpaid leave for illness. If you continued to work during your cancer treatment and spaced out your sick days and unpaid leave days for treatment days and surgery recovery days, your 12 weeks may have lasted the entire duration of treatment and you kept your job, or your employer was able to accommodate your needs. Regardless of your time line, when you do feel ready for work in a more pre-cancer capacity, schedule an in-person meeting with your boss or human resources. They don’t necessarily have to meet your demands, but another job title or job schedule may be available or more appropriate depending on your needs.

Figure Out What to Say to Your Colleagues

If you kept the lines of communication open when you received your cancer diagnosis, hopefully your employer accommodated your needs and will continue to do so. If so, your colleagues may be concerned about you and you’ll be bombarded with questions. A generic, upbeat answer such as, “I’m done with cancer treatment and excited to work on this project!,” lets colleagues know you’re healthy and ready to work. You can follow with, “See you at tomorrow’s meeting!” or “Want to grab lunch today?” depending on the friendship level. If you feel comfortable, you could send a group email to your team expressing your excitement and situation.

Consider a New Job

If you find you can’t safely or effectively perform your job duties any longer or you feel friction with your employer, it may be time to move on. Remember that reducing stress in your life after cancer is important for remaining healthy. You may face new limitations, such as the inability to travel for work or perform your specific physical or mental job duties due to your cancer treatment. Thus, consider a new career, workplace, position or schedule. Start going to networking events in your field or consider taking a college course on something completely different.

Try not to see this is a door slamming shut. Instead, update that resume and see this change as a door opening you to new possibilities in your cancer-free life!

Naomi Mannino
Naomi Mannino