A cancer diagnosis and what follows can bring about a host of different emotions. Though it can be challenging, getting in touch with yourself to identify your needs and how to get your head straight, can be really helpful as you work through some of the challenges. Below are some suggestions and resources that can help you gather information and make decisions with presence of mind in both your personal and work life.
Focus on What Is In Your Control
Distinguish between what you can and cannot control. For example, while you can’t control the outcome of tests or treatments, you can collect information to understand the illness, choose doctors whom you trust, and participate in all decisions by being informed. On a smaller, day-to-day scale, although you can’t always control waiting time, you can make it more comfortable by listening to your favorite music on your iPhone or iPad, or saving your favorite podcasts to listen to on appointment days. Delegating essential daily chores to people you trust will also help you understand that you remain in charge of your life. At work, delegating tasks to trusted colleagues will help you — and them — to appreciate that you are managing your responsibilities despite your personal circumstances.
Reach Out to Others
Social support from friends and family can go a long way during a cancer journey. It's possible not everyone will step-up in the way you might have hoped, but you may also be (or already have been) surprised by others who unexpectedly offer concern and assistance. At home and at work, ask those you trust to help out with essential responsibilities and chores. Cancer education programs and support groups can also be sources of information as well as safe havens for emotional expression and understanding. Hospitals, the American Cancer Society, your religious community, and CancerCare can provide information about cancer support groups.
Be Realistically Optimistic
Hopefulness and a positive outlook can be very motivating, but don’t fake it or feel guilty if you don't feel optimistic. Your feelings are valid, regardless of what they are, and despite external pressure to be positive, you are entitled to feel however you are feeling. Feelings of grief, loss, sadness and fear are totally normal, however, if you are concerned about anxiety or feel you may be becoming depressed, seek help from your medical providers and/or ask for help from your support network.
Meeting one-on-one with someone with your type of cancer can help to validate your concerns and also provide some insight. There are a number of programs that can assist in matching and/or finding someone in a similar circumstance. The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), has its Reach To Recovery program, which pairs breast cancer patients with volunteer long-term survivors. Imerman Angels (www.imermanangels.org/) provides a patient-to-patient mentor program. And Cancer and Careers has our Collective Diary, where you can share your story and read about others’ experiences.
Psychologists, social workers, nurses and psychiatrists trained in psychosocial oncology can be a great resource. Your oncologist’s office or any cancer treatment center can provide information on how to connect with one.
Keep doing things you enjoy during and after treatment, including exercise (if you are up to it), arts and crafts, reading, watching your favorite movies or sporting events, or whatever else provides a sense of peace and/or escape for you. For some, work can provide a welcome distraction from their cancer experience and many feel that being in their workplace actually aids in recovery. However, this is certainly not true for everyone - and work is hardly the only escape to be found. Figure out what works best for you.
Approaches for Working During/After Cancer
You may find that your feelings about work and/or priorities have changed since your diagnosis. As you explore and consider any such changes, consider the following suggestions:
If you have trouble concentrating, focus on one responsibility at a time instead of multi-tasking. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.
Take Regular Breaks
Avoid pushing yourself too hard. Listen to your body. Build in short breaks throughout the day where you can. If you can, take a 10-minute walk outside if/when possible — the fresh air and exercise can help clear your mind and boost your energy levels so you can focus on the task at hand when you return to your desk. Learn additional strategies for managing stress here.
Write Down Your Priorities
Use the list to figure out what your most important tasks are, then focus on completing those first. When you aren’t feeling well, reread your priorities to remind yourself what is necessary and do away with other people’s unrealistic expectations, actual or imagined.
Focus on the Familiar
If your work-related goals have changed so much that you decide to embark on a new career path, it can be helpful to return to your old position for a while before interviewing for a different job. Regaining your confidence as a full-time employee in a familiar environment can be invaluable.
Find out more from the article “What’s Next: Cancer As Inspiration for Career Changes.”
Page updated 2023.