Self-employment and cancer

Work and money can be additional sources of worry after a cancer diagnosis. If you’re self-employed this may seem particularly difficult. You may worry you won’t be able to keep the money coming in or that you’ll have to close your business. If you and your family rely on the income from your business, you may feel under strong pressure.

Support is available from different organisations and you may be eligible for benefits you don’t know about. You can find out about those sources of support by calling the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.

A cancer diagnosis can trigger many strong emotions. Feelings such as anger, sadness or fear may affect you at different periods during or after treatment. Having to give up work temporarily or for good may also be difficult to deal with. You may feel a loss of self-esteem or loneliness.

It can help be open about those feelings and talk to your family, your doctor or a counsellor. They’ll be able to provide you with the support you need to cope with those emotions.

Support available if you’re self-employed

Worries about money and work are very common for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. These questions can be difficult for anyone, but may seem especially tough if you’re self-employed or run your own business.

As well as concerns about your health and personal life, you may be wondering if you will be able to carry on working and how you will pay your bills.

If you’ve built up your own business, you’ll probably have invested a lot of time and hard work. There’s a great sense of achievement and satisfaction in being your own boss.

You may be concerned that having cancer could lead to you needing to start all over again when you have recovered, or having to close your business. Having a major illness can also affect your self-confidence, something which you may have come to rely on as a business owner.

You and your family may depend on the income from the business, too. This can add extra pressure as you may find it hard to see how to keep money coming in.

If you plan to carry on working, there’s a lot of support available to help see you through. The government, business organisations and voluntary groups offer a range of services to support small businesses, and many of these are free. You may also be eligible for benefits that you may not know about.

You might find it helpful to see our information about financial issues and the benefits that you might be entitled to.

It can feel as though there is less support if you’re self-employed. You may not have a group of colleagues to fall back on, or a sick leave policy that keeps paying a salary while you have treatment. But being self-employed may mean that you have more scope for flexible working. It may be easier for you to change direction, or work in a new way that suits you better.

You can get more information about the benefits you may be entitled to by calling the Macmillan Support Line free.

Emotions you may face

Each person has their own experience of cancer and it affects everyone differently. It’s a life-changing experience and most people recognise that things will never be quite the same again. A cancer diagnosis can cause a number of strong emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness or, sometimes, depression. During treatment these feelings can occur at different times. People often find that, over time, they become easier to cope with. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people find that they are still struggling to cope with their feelings weeks, months or even longer after their initial treatment has ended.

If you feel low for a period of time, it’s important to speak to your doctor about your feelings. They can then refer you for more expert help if necessary. If you’re feeling very low and distressed, you can contact the Samaritans – they run a 24-hour confidential helpline providing support for people in emotional crisis.

Making decisions

If you have big decisions to make, it’s best to do this when you’re feeling calm, rather than when you’re feeling anxious and upset. There will be good days and bad days, so try to focus on your business plans when you’re feeling stronger.

Your family is likely to be upset, too, and you may not want to burden them with money worries. However, if they will be affected by your work and financial plans, it can help to let them know if you have concerns. It will help them support you and you can perhaps work together to make plans. They may also be able to help you make any important decisions.

Taking time off work

Having to take time off from work may make you feel a variety of emotions. You may feel angry that you can’t be at work when you have a lot to do. You might worry about how the business will carry on, and how you will pay your bills.

If you need to take a lot of time off, you may start to feel out of touch with what’s going on in your business and in your trade or profession. You may lose confidence in your ability to do your job well, or you may worry that customers will feel let down or take their business elsewhere.

Some people can lose a sense of ‘normality’ and self-esteem when they’re not working. All these emotions are natural and normal when you have to take time off because of cancer or cancer treatment. It can help to talk honestly about these feelings to your family, friends and business partners. If there’s someone you like and trust working in the same field as you, it can also help to talk to them. They might have some good advice about your business.

Personal finances

Cancer can have a significant impact on your personal finances.

If you want to carry on working, take some time off or close your business, you might like to think about the issues below.

It may help to contact a financial adviser to get advice on your financial options. A qualified adviser can assess your individual situation and recommend what’s best for you. They may charge a fee for the service, but it could be a good investment at this time. To find out more about contacting a financial adviser, visit the Unbiased website.

As with business finances, the first step is to make sure you have as much money coming in as possible.

We have detailed information about all the issues mentioned above in our section Your finances.

Feeling alone?

Being self-employed can feel lonely at times. You may find it helpful to join a support group, where you can talk to other people who have been affected by cancer. Your hospital might be able to put you in touch with one, or our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 can tell you about local support groups and online communities. You may like to visit our online community at

Sometimes counselling can help people cope with their feelings. It can also help to restore self-confidence. Some GP surgeries, hospital cancer teams or cancer support groups provide counselling.

We have a booklet about the emotional effects of cancer called How are you feeling? We can send you a copy for free.

Back to If you are self-employed

Working during treatment

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

Making treatment decisions

When you’re self-employed, you may have particular questions about treatment decisions and how they could impact on your work.

Managing your workload

Cancer treatment can have an impact on the way you run your business. You may need to reorganise your activities to manage your workload.

Managing your finances

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