Making decisions about work

You may need to think about different things when making decisions about work. Your finances and how your treatment will affect you are usually important factors.

Your cancer doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals can give you information about how your treatment is likely to affect your ability to work. But it can be difficult to predict exactly how treatment will affect you. You may not be able to make a decision about work until after your first treatment.

Worries about money and work are common for people who have been diagnosed with cancer, especially if they are self-employed. Contact our financial guides as soon as possible if you are worried about money. There may also be a social worker or welfare rights adviser at the hospital who can advise you.

If you decide to work during treatment, you may need to discuss your work arrangements with your employer. You can talk to them about reasonable adjustments (changes) they may be able to make to help you carry on working.

Making decisions

There are different things you may need to think about when making decisions about work. The most important one is usually how your treatment will affect you. But your finances may also be an important factor.

You need to know how your treatment is likely to affect your ability to work. Your cancer doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals will give you information and tell you what to expect. Let them know what your job involves so you can talk about any particular difficulties.

You may also need to talk things over with a partner, if you have one, your family or close friends.


Questions you may want to ask your healthcare team

  • How long will each treatment take?
  • Will I need to stay in hospital and, if so, for how long?
  • How do people typically feel during and after treatment?
  • Will I need time off to recover?
  • How can the side effects be reduced?
  • Will treatment affect any physical demands of my job?
  • Will I be able to concentrate, drive, work shifts or travel?
  • Is there another treatment that works as well but could interfere less with work life?
  • Are there any options that could make working easier? For example, could I have my treatment at a hospital closer to my work?

Sometimes two different treatments work equally well. Your doctor may ask you to choose between them. If one interferes less with your work life, this may help you decide.

We have information about making treatment decisions that you may find helpful.

It can be difficult to predict how treatment will affect you. Two people having the same treatment can have different reactions. You may not be able to make a decision about work until after your first treatment.


Questions to ask yourself

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you make a decision:

  • Are there any risks to carrying on working during treatment?
  • Will I need to cut back on my workload temporarily?
  • Should I think about working in a different way, to allow time for rest as well as my treatment?
  • Who can help me at work in practical ways?
  • Will I need extra financial help and where can I get it?


Finances

When you are making decisions about work, your finances may be an important thing to think about. We have information about financial help and benefits.

Contact our financial guides as soon as possible if you’re worried about money. There may also be a social worker or welfare rights adviser at the hospital who can advise you.

Worries about money and work are common for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. But they may seem especially tough if you’re self-employed. We have more information about self-employment and cancer and for people who run a micro-business (one that employs fewer than 10 people).


Help from others

How much help and support you have from other people may influence your decision about work. Think about the practical help you can get from friends or family. This could give you more time to rest or more energy to cope with work. If you have a partner, you can talk about how you can jointly manage things.

You could ask for help with household chores, shopping and preparing meals. If you have children, ask someone you trust to help take them to and from school or activities.

If you need support with childcare, we have more information about this. You may find it helpful to talk to someone at the hospital, such as a social worker, for advice.

What struck me – and I hadn’t been prepared for – was just how much energy it drained from me. It was three months before I felt able to go back to work.

Tim


Your decision

What you decide will depend on your individual circumstances and what you feel is right for you. You can also change your mind as treatment goes on or if your circumstances change. 

Some people decide to take time off until treatment is finished and they feel ready to return to work. You may decide you want to focus on getting through your treatment and recovering. Others may carry on working, either full-time or part-time during treatment.

If you are in a senior or management position, you may feel under pressure to carry on working or go back before you feel ready. This can be difficult. Talk about your concerns and options with your HR advisor, medical team or family and friends to help you decide. You can also contact Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00.

Some people find their experience of cancer makes them rethink what they want to do with their lives. They may decide to give up work entirely or to do a completely different job.

If you decide to work during treatment, your employer should try to help and support you. You can talk to them about reasonable adjustments (changes) they may be able to make to help you carry on working.


Your feelings

Living with cancer during or after treatment may change the way you feel about work. You may have particular feelings about the way cancer affects your work life.

You may feel:

  • you have lost the normality and independence work gives you
  • angry you can’t be at work as usual
  • worried about your colleagues’ reactions
  • guilty if others are taking on some of your work
  • frustrated because things you found easy are now more difficult
  • less confident in your ability to do your job well
  • out of touch with your work colleagues.

All this can be hard to cope with. But with support you can find ways to adapt and to have more sense of control. It may take time to build your confidence and self-esteem.


Getting support

Talking about how you feel to family and close friends can often help. You can also talk to your cancer doctor, nurse or GP, or a professional counsellor. Counselling may help you to cope with your feelings and deal with any difficulties, such as talking to colleagues about cancer. If you’ve lost your confidence, it can help you to look at ways to build it up again.

Some companies and organisations have an employee assistance programme (EAP) to help employees coping with personal issues. Some cancer centres or GP surgeries provide counselling.

We have information about the emotional effects of cancer, which discusses the different feelings you may have and what can help.

Back to If you are an employee with cancer

Your rights at work

If you have or have had cancer, you are protected by law from unfair treatment at work.