Making decisions about work after treatment

Deciding what to do about work after you have finished cancer treatment can depend on your situation. Find out more about the choices you may need to make.

Thinking about work after treatment

What you decide to do about work after your treatment finishes depends on your situation. You may:

  • stop working for a while, until you feel ready to go back
  • carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or changes to your job (reasonable adjustments)
  • change jobs or careers
  • stop working because of your health
  • stop working because you want to focus on other parts of your life.

You may enjoy work because of the sense of normality and routine. Or it may be essential for your finances. You may also have friends at work that are very important to you. Everyone is different and it is normal to have mixed feelings about working after treatment.

Going back to work

For many people, going back to work when they feel ready is a big step in their recovery. Recovery takes time. It is important not to expect too much of yourself. Your healthcare team can help you decide when to return to work.

Your employer can also do a lot to support your return to work.

Agreeing a return-to-work plan

You and your manager can agree on a return-to-work plan. This should be as flexible as possible. You should agree to meet regularly in case you need to change anything.

Make sure you are fully involved in any decisions about your return to work. It can be helpful to write notes in your meetings. You may also want someone to come to the meetings with you. They can support you and help you remember what was said.

If you are still coping with treatment side effects, you can talk about whether changes to your work could help. These could be short-term or long-term changes. You can talk to your employer about making some reasonable adjustments. The law says that they have to consider this.

If things at work have changed while you were away, you can ask for time or training to learn about these changes. If you can no longer do tasks you did before, such as driving, talk to your employer about agreeing some changes to your job.

Finances when returning to work

Before you go back to work, you may need to think about how this will affect your finances. You can contact Macmillan’s financial guides on 0808 808 00 00. They can help you understand your options.

If your mortgage or any loans were being paid by an insurance policy, this will end when you go back to work. If you are thinking of working part-time, check how much money you need to cover your monthly outgoings.

You build up annual leave while you are on sick leave. You could use this during a phased return to work if your employer does not pay full wages during this time. Check if you have any income from occupational pensions, private pensions or life assurance. You might be able to freeze, transfer or cash in a pension.

If you have been out of work for a long time, you may have money problems. Some people may be in debt. StepChange Debt Charity can give you advice if you are in this situation.

If you have been claiming benefits

Whether you are entitled to benefits depends on your situation. Going back to work will change this. Certain benefits may stop. But you may still be eligible for some benefits, depending on your income. You may need to think about how much you need to earn to cover the loss of benefits. The number of hours you work could have an effect on your benefits.

It is important to get advice from an experienced benefits adviser. You can call our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00. You can also check if there is a benefits adviser at your hospital. Citizens Advice can give you advice, too.

Finding a new job

Looking for a new job after cancer treatment can be a positive sign of recovery. You may decide to return to the kind of work you did before, but with a different employer. Or you may want a change of career. Some people look for a less stressful job or one they might enjoy more. Others may decide to try something they have always wanted to do.

There are laws about what you have to tell a new employer about the cancer. When you prepare for an interview, you might want to think about how you will answer any questions about your health.

We have more information about finding a new job.

Not returning to work after treatment

Some people decide to stop working. You may:

  • want to focus on recovery or time with family and friends
  • decide to return to work later
  • choose to volunteer
  • consider early retirement.

Do what is right for you and your situation. We have more information about not going back work.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, you may have more flexibility than someone who is employed. But you may also have less support, and your business may be very important to you financially or emotionally.

Returning to work

Try to give yourself options for when and how you return to work. If you can, try to return gradually. You might want to prioritise certain work at first. Taking regular breaks can also help.

Closing your business

Some people stop working after treatment finishes. This may be because:

  • the business is still successful but you want to focus on other parts of your life
  • the business is no longer successful.

Take the time to think through your options and talk to a financial adviser.

We have more information about making decisions about your business.

Employment rights

If you have, or have ever had cancer, the law considers you to be disabled. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other people (who do not have cancer) because you have cancer, or for reasons connected to the cancer. That would be discrimination.

We have more information about types of discrimination and what you can do.

If you have cancer, the law says your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you. These are changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at or return to work.

Your rights apply to:

  • recruitment
  • terms and conditions of employment, and any benefits
  • opportunities for promotion and training
  • ending your employment.

We have more information about your rights at work when you have cancer.