Work and cancer

Having cancer may affect your ability to work.

This page will help you to find out more about work-related issues you may face after a diagnosis of cancer and how Maggie's can help.

Choosing whether to work or not

Your feelings and choices about work may change over time and you may feel confused or under pressure to make a decision about whether to continue working or not.

Talk to a Cancer Support Specialist at your nearest Maggie's centre to talk through your options which might include:

  • Work through treatment to keep things as normal as possible
  • Put work aside until after treatment
  • Stop working permanently to focus on other priorities
  • Take early retirement.

Questions to ask yourself

Before you speak to your employer, it can be helpful to work out what you want to do and what might be possible. You could ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about continuing to work?
  • Are there changes I could make to my job to help me stay in work? 
  • What support is available at work?
  • How would I manage financially if I stopped working or reduced my hours? Is there help available?

Questions to ask your healthcare team

Talk to your healthcare team about work and what you ideally would like to do. They can discuss what's possible and help where they can.

Questions you could ask:

  • Is it sensible to work while I'm having treatment?
  • Will it stop my treatment working or affect it any way? 
  • Can I fit work around my treatment or will I need to take time off? 
  • How will I feel after treatment? 
  • What are the likely side effects of treatment and will they get worse over time? 
  • Are there any specific restrictions like, for example, on physical work, concentration, driving or travel?
  • Will my immune system be affected? Do I need to avoid contact with others in work or when commuting?

Taking time off

At first, it may be difficult to look very far ahead and know how much time off you'll need to take.

The immediate need might just be for some time to deal with the emotional impact for you and your family.

As you find out more about your situation it will be easier to make longer term plans with your employer. You might want to discuss:

  • Working flexibly or reducing hours
  • Having a break from working
  • Making other changes to your workload
  • Your rights

It's important to keep in touch with your employer and involve them early on so they can support you at work as your needs change.

Money worries

One of the biggest concerns when you're thinking about reducing work or taking time off is whether you can afford it.

There is financial help available for you and your family:

Free advice is available from a Maggie's Benefits Advisor at your nearest Maggie's centre.

They can tell you what you're entitled to and help you to fill out all the necessary forms and support you through the application process.

Your rights at work – reasonable adjustments

It can be helpful to know that you have rights, as cancer counts as a disability in employment law. 

This means that not only is it unlawful to discriminate against you in terms of redundancy, promotion and career development but you also have a right to ask for reasonable adjustments to your role.

An employer doesn’t have to agree to every request, but does have to consider them and have a good reason for declining.

It can be difficult to know what adjustments are possible or reasonable to ask for. Some ideas include: 

  • Greater flexibility in hours – shorter days, different start or finish times, more breaks, working part-time
  • Working from home – some or all of the time
  • Temporary changes to your role to make it easier for you to manage
  • Equipment that may help – for example, if there have been changes to your speech or physical issues
  • Understanding and support for your changing needs.

Returning to work

The thought of returning to work after having cancer treatment can be overwhelming.

You will have been through many changes, both physically and emotionally and things may feel different to before. There may also be changes to your role.

Ideally, you will have kept in touch with your employer, so that you can talk about coming back and decide what changes will help you ease back into work.

You may need to build up your return to work gradually to help you deal with post-treatment fatigue and concentration issues.

The ‘Where Now – Support Beyond Treatment’ course at your nearest Maggie's centre will help build the skills and coping strategies to move forward after treatment, including returning to work.

Your employer may allow you time off to attend as part of your phased return.

Feelings about work

Often, work is about more than just the money. There are often many emotions attached to it which can be helpful to work through.

You may feel:

  • A loss of identity if work is a big part of who you are
  • You'll miss out on the social aspect of work
  • A loss of independence, normality and purpose
  • Frustration and anger at not being able to work
  • Worried what employers, customers and colleagues may think
  • Concern you'll add extra workloads for colleagues or let them down
  • Out of touch professionally
  • A loss of confidence and self-esteem.

Talking to your employer and colleagues, your family and a Cancer Support Specialist at your nearest Maggie's centre can help you ease worries and find ways to keep in touch at work.

Maggie's is here with you

Our Cancer Support Specialists can help you talk through issues around work and your feelings about it. 

We have Benefits Advisors who specialise in helping you to claim the benefits you, and those close to you, are entitled to.

Last review: Dec 2021 | Next review: Dec 2022

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