How much work you feel you’re able to do during cancer treatment might depend on a number of factors. These may include the type of treatment you’re having, the stage of your cancer, your overall health and the type of work you do.
You may find that you’re able to – and possibly want to – keep working during cancer treatment. Or you may find that you need to stop working to cope with the effects of the cancer and its treatment.
You’ll probably need to take time off for appointments, treatment and follow-up. In most cases, under equality laws your employer will give you a reasonable amount of time off work to attend necessary hospital appointments.
Your employer may be able to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to go to hospital appointments. However, there’s no absolute right to paid time off unless your contract of employment specifically states this. You should discuss the issue of appointments with your employer at an early stage to agree how they should be dealt with.
It will help to give your employer as much warning as possible if you need time off, because if you give very short notice they may be unable to agree to the request. If possible, it can help to arrange appointments for the start or end of the day to keep time away from work to a minimum.
If you need to take time off work during your treatment, it may be taken as sickness absence, or an agreed reduction in working hours or days per week. We have more information about taking time off, sick pay and other financial issues.
Talking to your employer about your need for time off will mean they can support you in the best way possible.
Being diagnosed with cancer and having to take time off can cause a range of emotions. You may feel angry that you can’t be at work when you have a lot to do. You may also feel guilty if others have to take on some of your work when you’re not there.
When dealing with a cancer diagnosis, people often say that they feel lonely and isolated. These feelings can affect people at different times in their illness. If you’re unable to work for periods of time, this may add to a sense of isolation.
Having cancer can also make you feel very vulnerable. You may feel as though you’ve lost your independence. You can feel tired and stressed, and it may seem as though things you used to find easy are now much more difficult.
Taking a lot of time off can make you feel out of touch with what’s going on at your workplace. You may lose confidence in your ability to do your job well, or you may think your colleagues are annoyed with you or feel you’re not doing enough. Some people lose a sense of normality when they’re not working, and some find that they lose self-esteem.
All these things can be hard to cope with, but you may find ways of adapting to your illness and treatment that will give you a new focus and sense of control. This can take some time, and your confidence and self-esteem will need to be built up again gradually.
Talking through your feelings can often help. Some people worry that by asking for help they’re being a burden. However, people are usually pleased to be involved and to be able to support you. It can be difficult to know who to talk to and what to say – it’s important to speak to someone you feel comfortable with and can trust.
You may wish to speak to a partner, family member or friend, a health professional involved in your care, or a trained professional not directly involved in your care, for example a counsellor. Counselling can help people cope with their feelings and help them find ways of talking to colleagues. It can also help restore self-confidence. Some GP surgeries provide counselling. Some companies and organisations have employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which are there to help employees dealing with personal issues.
You may find our information about the emotional effects of cancer helpful.