Back to Work After Cancer Treatment

Coping at your job while managing your illness

woman tired at computer desk

Going back to work can be exhausting for cancer patients. I worry that people return to work and think they will be right back to where they were before their cancer diagnosis. Robin Roberts, of Good Morning America returned to work after receiving six months of treatment for the rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome. My advice? Start part-time.

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Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Take it slow. You may not recognize or be prepared for how emotionally and physically deconditioned you are. You may be very tired for the first few days and not be able to work a full eight hours.
  • Prepare yourself for questions. Your colleagues will ask how you are doing, of course. But they may also ask if you’re cured or in remission. People don’t ask out of invasion of your privacy, but are curious and genuinely concerned.
  • Let people at work know you’re still managing your disease. Advise your colleagues and your boss that, even if you’re in a remission, you’ll still have to go to the doctor regularly during this time, and may have to take meds. If you have a bone marrow condition like leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome, or have undergone a bone marrow transplant, you’re still at risk for infections. 
  • Don’t hesitate to accept help if it’s offered. This may mean getting a ride to your doctor’s appointment. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, either.

People genuinely want to help. It’s okay to rely on your friends. And be good to yourself.  

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Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS

Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS, has more than a decade of medical experience in medical oncology and hematology. He is the Director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute.
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