How You Can Continue to Work During Cancer Treatment

Take steps to prepare yourself for a new routine
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Contributor: Jamie Schwachter, BSN, MSN, NP-C

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Among the many important issues that patients with cancer must decide is whether they should continue to work during their treatment.

This is a highly personal and individual issue and one that only you can answer. In deciding, you will want to take into consideration your workplace, diagnosis, treatment plan, support network, family and financial needs. You also will need input from your health care team.

Some people will decide to take time off from work. But for those who decide to continue working, you can take several steps to prepare yourself, your coworkers and your work space for a new routine as you move through cancer treatment.

Easing your schedule

One of the first things you may want to find out from your employer is whether you can modify your work hours to help you balance your work responsibilities with the time necessary for your treatment and rest.

Ask your supervisor if you could telecommute either full- or part-time or if there may be some flexibility in the times you start and end your workday.

Telecommuting – meaning working from home, but still communicating with the office via email, phone or other technology – would eliminate the stress of a commute, while allowing you to rest for short periods during the day if you need to.

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Varying the start or end time of your workday would make it easier and less stressful to schedule and keep doctor appointments or undergo tests and treatments.

Another way to build flexibility into your schedule might be to seek permission from your employer to leave work during the day for appointments, and then make the time up later that day or later in the week.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows you to take time off work in small segments for appointments or on days when you’re not feeling well.

Make your work space work

One area that you might not think of as needing attention is your work space. Since you spend the majority of your days there, make your work space as comfortable and efficient as possible.

There might be a few simple ways to arrange your work area so you don’t have to expend energy unnecessarily. For example, if you sit at a desk most of the day, put the things that you use frequently, such as your phone, files, or printer, within easy reach.

As for comfort, if a special chair pad or pillow will make you more comfortable, bring it in. If your employer can provide you with a special chair, it may be helpful to provide your manager with a medical certification form for the chair or other equipment that can better suit your physical needs.

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Making work less stressful

While you’re at work, be sure to take regular breaks throughout the day. Take a lunch break every day, as well as other short timeouts. Be careful not to push yourself too hard and be attuned to what your body needs.

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, so try to incorporate brief periods of physical activity into your workday. Take a lunchtime yoga class. Go for a walk outside. Stretch or do simple exercises in your desk chair.

You may find that you need to decline some types of requests such as staying late for a non-essential project. Although it can be difficult to say no, setting such boundaries will help you to avoid feeling overburdened. You also won’t resent losing the precious time you need outside of work to restore your body and mind.

Another way to reduce stress at work is to create a to-do list. Write down everything you need to do, and then rank each in order of priority. Focus on crossing off one thing at a time.

We often refer our patients to the website Cancer and Careers. There you can find lots of work- and career-related advice for cancer patients who are in treatment as well as those who have completed treatment.

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