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Five things you should know about returning to work after cancer treatment

Cancer may affect your work life in many ways. You may work on a casual, part-time or full-time basis, be self-employed, work from home, work on site or be looking for work – each type of worker will have a different experience.

However, there are some common themes you should consider before considering heading back to work during or after cancer treatment. 

  1. If you are well enough, you may decide to return to work during treatment
  2. Work is an important part of many people’s lives. Whether you can keep working during treatment for cancer will depend on your personal situation, and the decision should never be rushed.

    In many cases, if you, your employer and medical practitioners are comfortable with it, you can return to work while undergoing treatment. Some of your medications may affect your ability to operate equipment in the workplace, or impact the way you commute to work so you should always seek the advice of your GP or specialist to see if this is an option for you.

  3. Work with your employer and GP or specialist to create a return to work plan that works for you
  4. You may feel able to resume your previous workload immediately or may need to consider a phased return to work. In both cases, working with your employer to develop a return to work plan that you are both comfortable with will help to ease you back into the demands of your job.

    Your employer will want to know that you are capable of certain activities to ensure both your safety, and the safety of others in the workplace. They may require medical certificates or statements from your GP or specialist confirming your ability to return to work.

  5. Be clear with your employer about your abilities
  6. Being honest with yourself and your employer is very important. You should feel confident to express the types of tasks you are and are not capable of to your employer. Your GP or specialist will talk through the usual tasks associated with your job and help you understand which tasks you will be able to do safely.

    You need to ensure you are safely returning to work and not taking on too much at once. This is important for both your own safety, recovery, and rehabilitation, as well as the safety of others in the workplace.

  7. Take care of yourself
  8. Returning to work after undergoing cancer treatment may leave you feeling exhausted, anxious or depressed, lethargic, and generally unwell. Employers should provide flexibility around working days and times, allowing time off for medical appointments, rest days and personal leave. Remember, there is nothing wrong with taking time off for medical appointments and taking physical or mental health days. Your health should be your priority.

  9. You may feel more connected and begin to feel “normal” again
  10. There are several benefits of heading back to work in addition to the financial side of things, including:

    • Feeling mentally stimulated
    • Keeping you busy and getting back into your old routine
    • Maintaining a sense of identity and purpose
    • Feeling less alone through social interaction with colleagues
Want to learn more? Read the Cancer, Work & You resource from Cancer Council.