4 Tips For Working While Undergoing Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatment can feel like a full-time job all on its own. But not everyone can afford to quit their job while they're undergoing cancer treatments. In fact, since so many people use employer-provided health insurance, continuing to work is key to affording treatment for many cancer patients. If you can't afford to take time off of work while you're undergoing cancer treatment (or if you just don't want to stop working) take a look at some tips that will help you manage your professional life while undergoing cancer treatments.

Discuss Your Job With Your Healthcare Team

Before you decide one way or another whether you're going to keep working, take time off, or switch to part-time or light duty, it's important to discuss your job with your healthcare team. Your doctors can give you an idea of what kind of symptoms and side effects that you might experience, and how those might affect your ability to do your job.

It's also possible that your job could cause or exacerbate symptoms. For example, if you work with strong-smelling chemicals, they could trigger nausea and vomiting. Your doctors may be able to suggest job modifications or arrange your treatment schedule in a way that interferes as little as possible with your job.

Know The Laws That Protect You

It's important to be aware that even if you intend to keep working, you may reach a point where you have no choice but to take time off. There are laws that can protect you under those circumstances. For example, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year without losing their jobs or their group health coverage.

FMLA is a federal law, but your state may also have applicable laws that protect you. Furthermore, your company's own policies may contain provisions that support workers in your situation. Even if your plan is to continue to work the same days and hours that you always do, it's important to know what protections you have in the event that something changes.

Prioritize Your Job Duties

Cancer treatments like chemo and radiation can leave you feeling sick, weak, and fatigued. Even things that you're used to doing every day can start to feel overwhelming. Creating a plan with a list of priorities can help you better manage your work and get through the day.

Put the duties that are most important or time sensitive at the top of the list. That way, if you can't complete everything, you can at least be certain that you get the most important things accomplished while you have the most energy. Break complex jobs down into multiple small steps. This can make those big jobs feel more manageable, and the sense of accomplishment you get from crossing each step off the list of duties for the day can help keep you going.

Learn to Pivot The Conversation from Cancer to Career

It should be up to you how much you want to reveal about your health issues at work. But you'll probably need to inform at least some people about your cancer treatments, like your HR contact, your immediate supervisor, and possibly colleagues that you work with closely. And once you do that, word is likely to get around. You may find yourself dealing with uncomfortable or unwelcome inquiries into your health from well-meaning coworkers.

You're not obligated to share anything that you don't want to share. It can help to get comfortable pivoting the conversation back to work-related topics. Something simple like, "thanks for your concern. Since you're here, do you have time to go over that report?" can help get the conversation back on track and send the message that you want to stick to work-related topics at the workplace.

For many people, work provides a needed break from thinking about cancer and treatments. If you can't or don't want to stop working, you don't have to. Just make sure that you prioritize your health – physical, mental, and emotional – while you're in the workplace. For more tips on how to balance cancer treatment with your career, work with both your employer and doctors at facilities like Silver Cancer Institute.