The challenges that may get in the way of work can vary considerably during someone’s cancer experience.
There may be various stages in a cancer journey - with different implications for their life as an employee:
An initial period of turmoil and tests
Someone may not be physically unwell, but struggling emotionally as they attend appointments.
For some carrying on in work might offer a welcome sense of normality. Support may be around offering understanding, flexibility and time off to attend clinic appointments.
For others the cancer diagnosis news may be overwhelming. They may need to be a short period of sickness absence to take it all in.
During and after treatment
This can be where limiting effects may be more specific.
There may be periods when work is out of the question. Other employees may benefit from the flexibility of working from home, and on less intense projects for a while.
Surgery may be relatively minor, although some people may need life changing major operations. There may be lengthy recovery times and some long term or permanent changes to get used to.
Radiotherapy may be given over several weeks and require daily appointments. The side effects build up, and most people experience increasing tiredness as the treatment progresses
Chemotherapy is usually given as a combination of drugs in cycles of several weeks. The duration of the cycle will depend on the drugs used. The side-effects can be more wide ranging, and build up over time. However, with added flexibility, people can successfully do some work during a programme of chemo cycles.
This may be a time of a phased return. The person with cancer may wish to build up gradually to the usual working week. They may need longer term reasonable adjustments.
Early recovery may be a gradual easing of the immediate side-effects of treatment or healing from surgery.
There may be less aggressive long term follow up treatments which have their own side effects.
Later into recovery, it may be learning to adapt and manage “late effects”. It can be now that the emotional /psychological impacts and processing kicks in.
After the treatment is finished, changes from surgery and long term effects of treatment may need to be managed and support given.
Many may not need further treatment and in time be able to put their cancer experience behind them. Others may get a recurrence and/or spread, requiring further treatment, or develop long term effects with changing needs for workplace support.
This might lead to a rethink regarding work and a need for early ill health retirements.
Carrying on in work, however, is often both possible and important, even for some with advanced cancers.