Working during treatment

Continuing to work can give a sense of normality, and this can help you feel better about things. And of course, earning regular wages again can take some of the financial pressure off. But this choice has to be positive for you.

"The chemo made me so tired. I just couldn't stay standing up for as long as I could before. But I was fine talking to clients on the phone."

Making a decision for the right reasons

You shouldn’t continue working out of fear of losing your job or risk of not having enough money. These are, of course, completely understandable concerns but there is support to help manage this. The most important thing is to focus on getting better and not overdoing it. 

By keeping a diary and making a note of how you feel at different times of the day, or directly after your treatment, you'll be able to spot any patterns and arrange to work at times when you're least likely to be tired, in pain or feeling low.

If you think you won't be able to work for a day or so after each treatment, ask your doctor whether you can have appointments on Fridays so you have the weekend to recover.

Balancing treatment and work

Your treatment will probably affect your ability to work, even if it’s just tiredness and lack of focus. When you're due for treatment, try to avoid doing anything too energetic for 24 hours before and after it. And if you have a low blood count or high temperature, try to give your body the rest and relaxation it needs to recover.

It's important to tell your boss and colleagues how your treatment could affect your work. You don't have to go into embarrassing details but giving them some idea could help them to get support in place for you.

Different treatments can affect your ability to work in different ways:

Chemotherapy

Side effects from chemotherapy can include infections, nausea and diarrhoea. This may mean you need to take time off, while constipation and anaemia may mean you're not able to work as effectively as you used to.

Radiotherapy

Because radiotherapy usually takes place Monday to Friday for several weeks, you may have to ask if you can work reduced hours. In fact, you may need to stop working for a few weeks, and possibly for another few weeks after your treatment ends. 

Hormone therapy

Although there can be side effects from hormone therapy, such as weight loss, weight gain, tiredness, hot flushes and reduced sex drive, they shouldn't normally affect your ability to work.

Surgery

Surgery often causes tiredness, soreness and mobility problems, but other side effects depend on the kind of surgery you've had. For instance, after stomach surgery you may need to eat extra meals at odd times of the day, while bladder or bowel surgery could mean you need to use the toilet more than usual.

Read more about different treatments and their side effects.

Dealing with awkward situations or difficult questions

If you do tell your colleagues, you won’t always get the reaction or behaviour you expect or hope for. Some won't be sure whether you want to talk about your illness or not. Some of them won't be able to talk to you or look you in the eye. Others may have lost a loved one to cancer and find talking about it upsetting.

It’s ok to take responsibility for setting your own barriers and comfort zones. You can say if you don’t want to talk about it, or let me people know that you do. People will probably be grateful to know how you feel about it, and start interacting with you in a way you’re happier with. You might be surprised by how quickly everything gets back to normal and you're chatting about everyday things as usual.

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.

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