Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, are in the midst of treatment or have recently completed treatment, returning to work can be daunting. There is no denying that cancer is a life-changing experience. It presents patients and survivors with challenges they may never have encountered (or even thought of) before. When you layer on the need and/or desire to keep working, things can quickly feel overwhelming.
A recent article published by the Muse titled “What It’s Like Living and Working with a Chronic Illness,” by Alex Haagaard, explores how individuals with long-term illnesses have found ways to adapt and thrive in their workplaces. For cancer survivors returning to work, these are the three main takeaways:
1. Learn how to manage your illness. This may be one of the most important things you need to do before and during your return to work. It requires taking a careful look at how your cancer and any side effects from treatment have impacted you — physically, psychologically and emotionally — and determining how to mitigate any symptoms and their effect on your ability to do your job. If you find that your capacity to perform certain functions has changed significantly, then you’ll want to re-set any work-related expectations you may have had for yourself, so that they’re more realistic. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if/when you need it.
2. Find the right accommodations. Understand what it is you need to help you do your job well. Reasonable accommodations, which you may be entitled to under the law, could be worth exploring. However, you’ll need to figure out which accommodations will be most beneficial for you, based on your particular type of job and the challenges you’re experiencing. There is no single formula that’s right for everyone. Assuming you’ve disclosed some information regarding your health status at work (which you’ll likely need to do in order to get access to any accommodations), communicating with your employer about which accommodations will be most useful is going to be critical.
3. Build a support structure at work. Once you have assessed your needs on the job, consider discussing with colleagues you’re close to how they might be able to support you. For Alex Haagaard, who himself suffers from a chronic illness, “knowing my colleagues will understand if I disappear for a few days has made me feel more able to take time to rest when I need it — which has made it easier to get my work done when I’m feeling well.”
For those in treatment or managing lingering side effects from treatment, it’s important to remember that being a survivor is work in and of itself. You need to learn what the right balance is between managing your cancer and doing your other job.
CAC has a number of resources to help those returning to work — from articles on work & cancer and free publications to our Balancing Work & Cancer webinar series, which includes this upcoming session:
To read the complete article on the Muse, click here.