Managing Treatments

Making Medical Leave Work For You

When you go on medical leave, it's important to set expectations at your office so your teammates know when and to what extent you will be able to work remotely. Try not to take on too much or your health could suffer as a result.

Going on medical leave in the midst of cancer treatments is a unique experience for every individual. While leave provides time to convalesce and give your body its best chance to battle cancer and endure treatment side effects, time away from work can make you worry about what you’re missing. Take control of your medical leave by finding a point person, creating boundaries and remaining flexible during your time away.

Find a Point Person

Before you start your leave, find a point person at your office who can help you manage current or ongoing projects and be able to address issues in your absence. This person may be a supervisor or a trusted colleague. While you are away, your coworkers are going to be curious about your condition and your treatment, and may even wonder if they can contact you for work reasons. Instead of being flooded with phone calls, emails and texts from the office, use your point person to communicate for you. Keep them updated on your treatment, how you’re feeling and if you feel like taking emails. You will find that you can handle the influx of work questions and updates much easier when your point person is running defense for you at the office.

Create Boundaries

The American Cancer Society notes that during your treatments, you may need to work with your employer to pare down your duties, moving to a part-time arrangement or a full leave. Most of the time, a medical leave from work does not come with expectations of you working while away from the office. However, you may find that you feel up to staying connected via email or phone calls. It is important that, if you do decide to remain accessible to colleagues, you establish boundaries that support your health. Consider setting up office hours when you’ll be available to check emails and answer your phone. Your office hours do not need to be long. Also consider checking your inbox at least once after 2 p.m. daily during the week. Setting these limits can help your colleagues know when their emails will get to you — they won’t feel neglected if they don’t get an immediate response.

You can also create your own personal boundaries. For example, set the rule that you will not check emails the day after your chemo treatment, or after 8 p.m. Consider when you are feeling the most ill, and then don’t allow work to creep in during these fragile times. Explain your boundaries to your spouse and other caregivers so that they can hold you to them. Remember: Your health is the most important part of your leave.

Remain Flexible

There will be weeks when you feel great and are checking emails three times per day. There will also be weeks when you’re lucky to have enough strength just to open up your laptop. Give yourself some grace and stay flexible with your expectations of work accomplishments during your leave. Keep your point person updated on how you’re feeling and what boundaries are most applicable during that time. Your teammates will appreciate knowing when you are feeling up to more work tasks and when you aren’t. Communicating your expectations and limits is a great way to keep things moving forward at work, while allowing you to remain engaged and valued for your efforts during your medical leave.

Haley Burress
Haley Burress