Working During Cancer Treatment
Working during cancer treatment may be a necessity, or simply a way to hold on to a comforting bit of pre-cancer routine. And, now, thanks to a growing arsenal of less-toxic chemotherapy drugs, staying on the job during treatment is a reality for more and more patients. It may be a challenge, but with some careful planning, you can stay on the job during treatment. Try these tips:
- Talk with your doctor. Find out how long your treatment will last, possible side effects, and its potential physical and mental impact. Tell your doctor about your responsibilities at work, and together, devise strategies to minimize treatment side effects and make it easier to continue working.
- Schedule strategically. Try to schedule chemotherapy late in the day, or near the end of the week, to give yourself time to recover away from work.
- Be up front with your boss. It may be difficult to talk about your diagnosis with people other than family and close friends, and for the most part, you can decide with whom to share details of your disease and treatment. But it’s important for your boss to hear about your situation from you, so you can work out solutions together. Think through what you’ll say, and figure out what arrangements you’d like to make to work during treatment. You and your boss may be able to work out a plan that allows you to work from home, or cut back on work hours, when you’re feeling ill or fatigued.
- Meet with HR. Find out whether your employer offers short- or long-term disability, who qualifies, and what the requirements are. Even if you plan to work through your treatment, having information, and even applications, ready just in case is a good idea.
- Decide what you want to tell co-workers. When you decide what and with whom you want to share, be prepared for a variety of responses. Many colleagues will express concern, and want to help. Others may share personal stories of their own, or a friend’s or relative’s experience with cancer. Still others may appear uncomfortable around you. That may be because they don’t know what to say, or maybe the topic of cancer itself makes them fearful or uneasy.
Devise Strategies During Treatment
Recognize that while you’re undergoing treatment, you physically may not be able to do everything you did before. You’ll likely battle a bit of nausea and fatigue, as well as “chemo brain,” the mental fog and difficulty concentrating that about 30 percent of cancer patients experience, according to the American Cancer Society. It may be hard to set boundaries or say no to projects that require working late or on weekends. But being realistic about your temporary limitations will benefit both your health and career in the long run.
Some of the best weapons to combat treatment side effects are getting plenty of sleep, and boosting your energy and immune system with a healthy diet.
Other strategies include:
- Cut back on multi-tasking. You may have been a whiz at it before treatment, but it may be too much of a challenge now.
- Minimize distractions. Arrange your work area to help you focus, and so that the tools you need —the printer, the phone, your files — are close by.
- Work from home. Talk to your supervisor about the possibility of telecommuting, either temporarily during treatment, or on days immediately after treatment.
- Lean on technology. Use the built-in alerts on your computer’s calendar to remind you of meetings, deadlines, and medical appointments. Find smart phone apps that can help you organize your schedule and your day.
- Get help around the house. Getting help with chores at home can free up energy and focus for work. Friends and family probably want to help, don’t be afraid to let them.
As long as you are able to fulfill your duties at work, you can’t be fired for being sick. Federal law requires some employers to let you work a flexible schedule to meet your treatment needs. To learn more about your rights, consult provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act that pertain to cancer treatment.