Finding Stability

Working During Cancer Treatment: Tips for Managing Work-Life Balance

Working during cancer treatment can be an important way to maintain normalcy.

There are many reasons cancer patients continue to work during cancer treatment. For some, it’s to maintain as normal a life as possible. Others enjoy the distraction that comes with immersing themselves in work. And with the rising cost of cancer treatment, many simply must work to pay their medical bills.

Whatever the reason, working during cancer treatment comes with many challenges. Knowing what to expect and what resources are available can help you manage this new work-life balance.

Talk to Your Employer

It’s understandable if you’re reluctant to share such personal information. However, there are several benefits to letting your employer know you have cancer.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, covered employers must make reasonable accommodations for those going through a disabling illness, such as cancer. Reasonable accommodations may include adjusting your work schedule or allowing frequent breaks. In order to ask for reasonable accommodation, you must disclose the reason why.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide who you tell at work, and how much to disclose. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer may not disclose to other employees that you have cancer. The EEOC offers information on what employers can ask of potential and current employees who have cancer.

Human resources can review your work benefits and make additional resources, such as wellness programs, available to you. Chances are they’ve helped other employees manage a serious health diagnosis before and can offer valuable insight into creating a work-life balance. According to Cancer and Careers, 74 percent of employed women with cancer said they felt supported at work, and 40 percent said their work hours became more flexible after disclosing their cancer diagnosis.

Know What to Expect

Ask your doctor how your cancer treatment may affect your ability to work. If you’re getting chemotherapy, review all the possible side effects and find out if oral chemotherapy is an option, in order to limit time away from work. Some medications to reduce chemotherapy side effects may make you drowsy. Schedule your infusions at the end of the work day and as close to the end of the work week as possible, so you can go home afterward and have the weekend to recover.

If you’ll be having surgery, find out the recovery time and any physical limitations. Factor in time for any rehabilitation therapy.

Radiation therapy takes up the least amount of daily time but the most days, usually five days a week for several weeks. To maximize work hours, schedule radiation during the least productive part of your work day.

Plan for the unknown. Avoid scheduling anything important on the first day of each new treatment until you know how you’ll react. Assume you’ll experience some level of fatigue, the most common side effect experienced by cancer patients, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Work When You Can

You may find yourself with a big block of time during chemotherapy treatment to complete work-related tasks. Depending on your comfort level, you can conduct work with a laptop and Wi-Fi access. You can also use chemo time to work on your emotional well-being, an often overlooked part of cancer treatment.

If the duration of your treatment exceeds your paid sick leave, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, even just taking off a few hours at a time. Cancer and Careers offers additional legal and practical resources on working during cancer treatment.

You may not have to work during your cancer treatment to stay financially afloat. UVA Cancer Center has resources for patients who need financial support.

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Rita Colorito