Making decisions about work

If you are self-employed, you may have to make decisions about your business when you are diagnosed with cancer. Some people continue working, and others stop working or reduce their hours. Some people need to carry on working as much as possible for financial reasons. Others find work gives them a sense of normality. It may depend on the type of work you do and the support you have.

It is a good idea to talk through your situation with colleagues, family or friends before deciding what to do.

Although you won’t know exactly how you will react to treatment, it is helpful to plan ahead for different situations. For example, you might plan to gradually increase your working hours after treatment finishes. When you are ready, returning to work might help you get back to normal. Try to return to work gradually and give yourself breaks.

Your doctor or nurse will be able to give you more information about how your treatment and its side effects might affect your work.

Making decisions about your business

It may be difficult to decide whether or not to work during your treatment. It depends on your individual circumstances. One of the most important things to think about is how your treatment is likely to affect you.

Some people keep working during treatment, either full-time or part-time. Some people need to carry on working as much as possible for financial reasons.

You may find that working during your treatment gives you a sense of normality and helps you focus on something other than the cancer. It may depend on the type of work you do, and whether you have anyone else who can help out for a while.

Questions to ask yourself

When you are thinking about working while having treatment, ask yourself some questions:

  • Will I need to cut back on my business temporarily?
  • Will I need to run my business in a different way, to allow time for rest as well as my treatment?
  • Who will be able to help me in practical ways?
  • Can I pay someone else to run my business and still make a profit from it?
  • Will I need extra financial help to get me and my family through this time and, if so, where can I get it?
  • Will it be safe for me and for others if I carry on working during treatment?
  • Have I spoken to my insurers to check if I am still covered?

It may help to talk these questions over with someone who knows you well and understands the work you do. Then you can plan the best course of action. It is a good idea to discuss your business decisions with another person, especially if you are feeling unwell, tired or upset.

Writing down the decisions you need to make

Try writing down the decisions you need to make and decide who can help you with these. For example:

  • Decision I need to make: Should I work during treatment?
  • Who can help me make them: My cancer nurse can tell me more about how the treatment might affect me.

Planning ahead

It is impossible to predict how you will react to treatment until you start. This uncertainty makes it hard to plan ahead and decide how much work to take on. It may help to let your work mates or important customers know you may need to change your work plans at short notice.

While you do not know exactly what will happen, you can think about what you could do if different situations come up. It might be helpful to write down what might happen, your options if this happens and your plan. For example:

  • What might happen: Once my treatment is finished, I may start to recover and feel able to work more again.
  • My options if this happens: I could go straight back to my full working hours, and see how I cope; or, I could increase my working hours over several weeks, to get back to normal gradually. But I would need to be prepared to have less income than if I worked full hours.
  • My plan: I will gradually increase my working hours to make sure I give myself time to recover. I will call Macmillan’s financial specialists on 0808 808 00 00 to find out if I can get any extra financial help during this time.

Try not to feel guilty that you are taking time off. Be gentle on yourself and make sure the important things in your life are back on track as much as possible.


My job is quite physical and highly demanding. I could hardly walk a couple of steps before I became breathless so I definitely couldn’t do my job.


Returning to work after treatment

If you are not sure when you might be ready to go back to work, see how things go and keep your options open. When you are ready, you may find returning to work helps you get back to normal.

You might be tempted to push yourself too far, too quickly. For example, if you are a manual worker, perhaps a bricklayer or mechanic, you may stretch yourself too far physically. Or if your work is office-based, you may feel as though you should work long hours in front of a computer to catch up with tasks you have fallen behind with.

If you can, you should plan to return to work gradually. Try to decide what is most important and just do those parts of your work until you feel stronger. Give yourself regular breaks – you can even schedule them into your diary as appointments.

It helps to remember that your recovery may not always be straightforward. You may have some setbacks or your circumstances may change along the way. Try to remain flexible.

It is important that you also take advice and guidance from your healthcare team. Your cancer type or treatment may mean there are specific restrictions about how you can work. For example, if you have had treatment for a brain tumour, it will usually be at least a year before you will be allowed to drive again.

Back to If you are self-employed

Self-employment and cancer

If you’re self-employed, you may worry about work and money during cancer treatment. Support is available to help you cope.

Working during treatment

Cancer treatments can cause side effects of symptoms at work. There are ways to make things easier for you.

Managing your finances

If you’re self-employed, you may worry about your finances. Support is available to help you.