Getting organised before cancer treatment
Starting treatment can affect many areas of your life. You might be worried about:
Getting organised before you start treatment can help you feel more in control.
It might be helpful to make a list of all the things you need to organise, such as your day-to-day activities and other tasks like paying the bills.
Cancer can affect your finances. You might:
- need to stop or reduce your work
- have costs you were not expecting, such as travel or bigger heating bills
- need to pay for childcare or pet care
- worry about the cost of living and how you will cover these expenses.
Benefits are payments from the government to people who need financial help. There are lots of benefits that could help you as you prepare for treatment.
Benefits can be confusing. If you need help applying for benefits or grants, speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser for free by calling 0808 808 00 00.
We have more information on benefits. Our benefits calculator can help you understand which benefits you may be eligible for.
When you are preparing for cancer treatment, work might be one of your first concerns. Talking to your employer and knowing your rights can help you get the right support.
If you are self-employed (see below), knowing about your rights and benefits can help too.
If you are employed, you should talk to your manager or human resources department as early as possible. You can talk to them about the possible effect of cancer on your work.
If your manager knows about this, they can support you better. You may want to tell your employer about the Macmillan at Work programme. It could give them a better understanding of how they can help you.
Before you talk to your employer, it can help to ask your healthcare team about treatment and what to expect.
How cancer affects your work life will depend on different things such as:
- the type of cancer, its stage and size, and whether it has spread
- treatment and side effects
- your finances
- the practical support you have.
You may decide to tell your colleagues at work so that they can help and support you. But you may not. Some people like to keep other areas of their life as normal as possible. We have information about talking to people at work.
You may decide to stop working when you are diagnosed with cancer. You might want to focus on treatment and time with family and friends. We have more information about how cancer can affect your work life.
Your rights at work
If you have or have had cancer, the law considers you to be disabled. This means your employer cannot treat you less favourably than other people because of the cancer.
Being treated less favourably because of the cancer is called discrimination. There are laws that protect you from being discriminated against at work because of cancer:
- If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, the Equality Act 2010 protects you.
- If you live in Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects you.
This legislation also says your employer has to make reasonable adjustments (changes) to your workplace and their work practices. This is to help you carry on working or return to work.
Reasonable adjustments could include time off for hospital appointments or flexible working.
We have more information about your rights at work.
If you are self-employed, you may worry about how being diagnosed with cancer will affect your business. You might worry about restarting the business again after treatment, or having to close your business.
Running your own business may be a big part of your life, and it may affect your emotions and confidence.
You may decide to carry on working, or you might take some time off or close your business. Either way you might like to think about:
Your rights when you are self-employed
If you are self-employed, you may not have legal protection against discrimination. In some cases, you may be protected against discrimination if you are employed under a contract. This means there is a written agreement between you and an employer that you will do work and be paid for it.
People with their own business might not be protected from disability discrimination by a customer or client. Even if the law does not protect you, talking to people you work with about the cancer diagnosis and its impact can often help.
We have more information about self-employment and cancer and about talking to business contacts when you are self-employed.
Travelling to and from hospital can be expensive, especially if you have treatment every day for weeks. The costs can quickly add up, but there is help available.
If you get certain benefits, you may be able to claim a refund on:
- your bus or train fares
- some petrol costs
- taxi fares (in some situations).
If you need someone to travel with you to hospital for medical reasons, you may be able to get a refund on their travel costs.
Hospital car parking policies are different across the UK.
We have more information about travel costs to and from hospital.
Many people who have cancer are able to travel abroad without problems. But for some people, cancer or its treatment may make travelling more difficult.
Here are some things you may need to think about:
- Cancer and its treatments can have physical effects, including certain side effects and symptoms. These could make it more difficult to travel or could cause problems while you are away.
- You may need to take medicines and medical equipment with you.
- Travel insurance is generally more expensive for people who have cancer.
It is important to speak to your doctor or specialist nurse before you make any plans. You may it helpful to get a letter from your doctor which explains your diagnosis and treatment. This can help:
- if you need to take medication away with you
- with getting insurance
- if you need medical help while you are away.
- If you are worried about the cost of travelling, help may be available.
If you have cancer and care for others, it can be difficult to think about your own needs.
You may feel like you are on your own and that other people do not understand what you are going through. You may be coping with physical symptoms or side effects of treatment.
But you are not alone. It is important not ignore your own needs and feelings. Your key worker or healthcare team can help support you. They can offer practical help and emotional support, or refer you to other support services or healthcare professionals that can help.
If you think you may no longer be able to care for someone because of the cancer or its treatment you should let people know as soon as possible. This might be:
- your clinical nurse specialist (key worker)
- your healthcare team
- your GP
- the GP or social worker of the person you care for
- the adult social care department of your local council.
We have more information about looking after others when you have cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment can often disrupt family life and normal routines. Your childcare needs may change, and you may need more support to look after children.
This can be upsetting and difficult to accept. But this situation is usually temporary. Try not to feel guilty. It can be difficult to ask for help. But with the right support, some of the stress can be reduced. This means you can relax and enjoy time with the children.
Family or friends may be able to help by taking children to school, or with everyday tasks such as shopping. This can give you more energy to do fun things with the children.
You could also speak to your employer about more flexible working hours. Many offer home-working or flexitime. Social services can provide practical support. Charities also have experienced volunteers who can visit your home to help with childcare.
We have more information about childcare.
It can be difficult to look after a pet when you are affected by cancer. Sometimes you may need to go into hospital for a short time or at very short notice. You can plan for an emergency or short-term carer in case it happens.
Friends, neighbours, family members or your local vet may be able to help. Other short-term options could be fostering, boarding, or a kennel or cattery.
We have more information to help plan for your pet care.
It is difficult to know exactly how cancer and its treatment will affect you. You may be able to carry on with your practical daily activities as you did before. Or you may feel too tired or weak to manage everyday things such as:
- preparing meals
- washing and dressing.
This may be because you are coping with the symptoms and side effects of treatment. If you have surgery, you may not be able to do your daily activities while you recover. This can make you feel less confident about doing things around the house or going outside on your own.
You may be worried about your mobility (walking and moving around). We have information about things that can help if you are having problems with mobility.
Tell your cancer doctor or specialist nurse about any practical help you might need at home as you recover. They can give you advice and may be able to arrange help or equipment for you.
Remember that family, friends and neighbours can all help you with your daily activities. Often, they will be happy to help.
Occupational therapists (OTs)
Your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP can refer you to an occupational therapist (OT). OTs look at practical ways of making daily activities safer, more comfortable and easier.
They help people who have difficulty moving around or doing everyday activities such as housework, dressing, washing and cooking. They may be able to visit you at home to help you find ways of doing things.
Housework and laundry
- Make a list of tasks that need to be done.
- Try to do a little bit each day rather than everything at the same time.
- Pace yourself and take breaks.
- Ask family and friends to help you, or use a cleaning company if you can afford it.
- Take a few items at a time to the washing machine, or use a trolley.
- Ask for help to hang out the washing and with ironing.
- Consider stretchy clothing that does not need to be ironed.
- Plan your meals and make a list to help you save time and energy.
- Ask family or a friend to go with you so they can help with carrying and packing.
- Ask others to get things for you when they do their own shopping.
- Try online shopping and have it delivered to you. If family or friends are too far away to help in person, they can do this for you.
- Ask the person at the checkout if someone can carry your shopping to the car.
- Wearing a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower card or lanyard can show staff or other shoppers that you may need help.
- Have a chair or stool in the kitchen so you can sit when preparing food or washing up.
- Plan meals that are easy to prepare.
- When you feel less tired, make extra dishes or double portions of food. You can freeze them for when you need them.
- Ask others to help with tasks such as peeling and chopping.
- Ask others to prepare meals that you can freeze and heat up.
Washing and dressing
- Have a bath, or sit down in the shower.
- Sit down when getting washed and dressed.
- Consider stretchy clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Loungewear or pyjamas might be easier, especially if you are not going out.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our getting organised before treatment information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Transition between inpatient hospital settings and community or care home settings for adults with social care needs. NICE guideline [NG27] Published:01 December 2015. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng27 (accessed May 2022).Hospital Discharge and Community Support Guidance. GOV.UK. Department of Health and Social Care. Updated: 01 July 2022. Available from www.gov.uk/government/publications/hospital-discharge-and-community-support-guidance/hospital-discharge-and-community-support-guidance (accessed July 2022).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
The language we use
We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.
We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:
- use plain English
- explain medical words
- use short sentences
- use illustrations to explain text
- structure the information clearly
- make sure important points are clear.
We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.
You can read more about how we produce our information here.
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