Getting Back to Work After Cancer


April 22, 2019

Returning to work after cancer treatment ends is not an option for everybody. But, if you feel ready – physically, mentally and emotionally – and have your doctor’s blessing, a return to work can be just what you need to move on and find new purpose post-cancer. With a little planning, you can successfully transition back to the nine-to-five routine.


Connecting With Your Employer

back to work after cancer








Once you’ve made the decision to go back to work, you’ll want to begin by connecting with your employer to discuss your return. Find out all of the options available to you, including:

  • Part time work
  • Flex time to allow for doctor’s appointments
  • Telecommuting
  • Paid vs. unpaid time off

While employers are not required to lower job standards, it is reasonable to expect them to make certain accommodations. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include things like:

  • Periodic breaks or a private area to rest or to take medication
  • Permission to use work telephone to call doctors where the employer’s usual practice is to prohibit personal calls
  • Restructuring your job
  • Transferring marginal tasks to another employee
  • Modification of office temperature

For more information on workplace modifications, we recommend reading Questions & Answers about Cancer in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Connecting With Your Coworkers

back to work after cancer








You will also need to decide how much to communicate with your coworkers about your cancer and treatment. Of course, how open you are is a personal decision, and in some workplaces it may be more beneficial not to share this information.


Either way, you’ll want to be prepared for a variety of reactions from your colleagues. Think ahead of how you will respond to these reactions, and you’ll feel more ready to answer questions or be ready to respond to a lack of questions.


Connecting With Yourself

back to work after cancer








As you return to your old job, things may be different. That’s OK. Allow yourself plenty of time to adjust. It would be unrealistic to think that everything will go back to “normal,” so don’t pressure yourself if things aren’t exactly the same.


Take frequent breaks. Make adjustments to your workspace if needed. Give yourself a pep talk from time to time. Everyone’s transition back to work is different and has unique challenges. With a positive mindset and a plan, making the transition will be easier.


How To Handle Discrimination

back to work after cancer








If you think that things are not going as they should, the law is on your side. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including those with a history of cancer or other illness.


Another important law to know is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You are probably already familiar with this if you took any time off during treatment. What you may not know is that your time does not have to be taken all at once. If you have not used up all your time, you have some flexibility in how you use it now. Talk to someone in human resources to find out if your company follows FMLA and what your options are.


Remember, the best approach in returning to work after cancer is to have an open mind. Preparing yourself for a variety of situations will also help you ease into your transition and make the most of your new normal.