How to Strike a Balance Between Cancer and Work

When life takes an unexpected turn, the balance between personal and professional well-being can teeter on the edge. Few events disrupt this balance as profoundly as a cancer diagnosis. Individuals find themselves grappling with their health and the complexities of employment life, asking themselves questions like, “Do I have to quit my job?” or “Do I still have a job to come back to after treatment?” Navigating this uncharted territory requires resilience, resourcefulness, and adaptability. This article delves into the intricacies of handling employment life while facing a sudden cancer diagnosis, exploring the challenges and triumphs.


Disclosing Your Cancer Diagnosis with Your Employer

One of the first steps in managing cancer treatment and employment is deciding when and how to disclose your diagnosis to your employer. While there is no legal requirement to disclose your cancer diagnosis, it may be beneficial to do so, especially if you require accommodations. It’s essential to communicate with your employer about your cancer treatment and side effects to ensure they understand your situation and can provide appropriate support.


Workplace Accommodations for Cancer Patients and Survivors

When it comes to accommodating employees with disabilities, cancer patients included, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to those employees. Here are some examples:


1. Flexible Scheduling

Providing flexibility when it comes to scheduling is one way for employers to accommodate an employee undergoing or recovering from cancer treatments. A company’s human resources department should permit attending medical appointments or receiving treatment whenever necessary without fear of losing work.


2. Job Restructuring

Job restructuring entails modifying responsibilities, workloads, or requirements to help an employee with cancer to perform their roles effectively. For example, the employer can assign roles that do not require heavy lifting or prolonged standing to accommodate an employee with cancer-related impairments and functional limitations.

In addition, providing the necessary training and mentorship can help cancer-ridden employees learn or master skills relevant to their altered role. Moreover, adjusting performance expectations allows all team members, including those with disabilities, to operate and collaborate effectively.


3. Adaptive Aids and Technology

Employers can provide modified equipment or devices to help cancer-ridden employees perform their jobs. Devices that can help employees make the most of their abilities in completing job tasks include ergonomic chairs and desks, which can compensate for, maintain, or enhance work abilities and comfortability.


4. Workplace Accessibility

Employers can make the workplace more accessible to employees with disabilities by installing wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, or providing accessible parking spaces.


5. Leave of absence

Employers can provide additional leaves of absence to allow cancer-ridden employees to attend doctor’s appointments and receive medical treatment.


How to Balance Cancer and Work

You can handle your cancer treatment and work schedule by collaborating with your healthcare team and employer. Here are specific tips on how to communicate with them:

  • Be honest and open: Disclose all details related to your diagnosis, symptoms, required accommodations, and work limitations.
  • Make a plan: Consult your healthcare team about creating a treatment plan that aligns with your work schedule. 
  • Communicate regularly: Keep your employer and cancer care team informed about any changes in your health or treatment plan. Schedule regular check-ins with your doctors to discuss any side effects or issues that may affect your work, and keep your employer informed about any changes in your availability or ability to perform your duties.
  • Explore all resources: Check the resources and support services available to working cancer patients and survivors, which may include employee assistance programs (EAPs). These initiatives may offer professional counseling, coaching, or additional support.
  • Know your rights: Educate yourself about your rights as an employee with a disability, including your right to reasonable accommodations. Equipping yourself with knowledge can help you communicate your needs effectively and ensure you receive the support you need to manage your work and treatment schedules.


Additional Tips and Strategies

To navigate this challenging situation, here are additional tips for balancing cancer and work responsibilities:

  • Explore remote work options: If possible, consider working-from-home arrangements to eliminate the need to travel to and from your workplace, saving you time and energy.
  • Use FMLA and other leave options: Look into your paid and unpaid leave options, which may include up to 12 weeks off for qualified medical absences under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If your cancer treatment makes it challenging to maintain your current position, explore options such as job retraining or career counseling for a smoother transition toward a role that aligns with your treatment schedule and physical capabilities.
  • Be honest with yourself about your limitations: While it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on your career goals, you need to acknowledge your limits and avoid pushing yourself too hard. Remember, reintegrating into the workplace after cancer treatment takes time. Speeding up the process even though your body is not ready will do more harm than good. Read A Five-Step Guide to Returning to Work After Cancer Treatment for more information.
  • Take part in cancer support groups: Joining a support group gives you access to invaluable emotional support. Being able to connect with others who are facing similar challenges provides a renewed sense of understanding, validation, and empathy. Sharing your experiences, worries, and emotions in a safe and supportive environment can help you alleviate feelings of isolation and find a safe space for mutual encouragement and reassurance. Cancer support groups can also offer practical advice, coping strategies, and a network of people who understand the unique complexities of balancing work and cancer, cultivating a sense of empowerment and resilience within you.

Managing cancer treatment and employment can be challenging. Still, with proper planning, support and patience, it is possible to continue working while undergoing or recovering from cancer and its treatments.


Remember, “Patience Is a Virtue”

Patience plays a non-negotiable role in balancing employment life and a cancer diagnosis. It allows individuals to navigate the healing and treatment process, adjust to new realities, tend to their emotional well-being, maintain a long-term perspective on professional progress, and build resilience. By fostering patience, individuals can approach challenges with acceptance, adaptability, and perseverance, fostering a sense of balance and well-being while finding the strength to overcome obstacles.

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