Returning to Work After Breast Cancer Treatment


Your doctor has cleared you to return to work. Now you must decide what to do. I have seen statistics at extreme ends of the spectrum detailing the number of women that return to work after breast cancer.

Before we look at who did and didn't return to work and why, let's look at what we need to do when diagnosed with regard to our employment. Sitting down with your employer can work in your favor when it comes to job security.

Find out if their are parts of your job that can be done from home, or if you can have a reduced work schedule if working from home is not possible. If neither of these options are possible, you need to discuss how much vacation time and sick leave you are entitled to before trying to find other sources of income while unable to work.

Find out if your job is covered under the Federal Medical Leave Act.This legislation protects employees who work in companies with over 50 employees, by entitling them to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for medical reasons. Your company insurance will continue during this period. Given the high cost of breast cancer treatment, having insurance coverage is critical.

Statistics on women that do not return to their previous jobs group them into two categories. First, there are those who can no longer perform the work that they were previously doing before their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Most likely, the work may have included lifting or other physical components that they can no longer perform. But, for some, the cancer may have spread to other areas of the body thereby creating even further limitations for those whose work requires physical activity. Ideally, your employer will have a desk job to accommodate your limitations but this isn’t always the case.

The search for a new job may not be easy so you may want to enlist all the help that you can get from friends, church groups, cancer organizations and your local unemployment offices if your own search is not producing the results that you need or expected.

You also need to reach out to organizations with a track record in assisting those with cancer find employment after cancer treatment. One such experienced organization is Cancer and Careers. This organization can help with resume preparation and preparing for interviews as well as other aspects of returning to the workplace.

The second group of women, that do not return to their old jobs, do so by choice. These women have discovered that the work that they were doing may have been causing them too much stress or they were not doing the type of work that was fulfilling.

For many though, they will be returning to their previous jobs as soon as permitted. This may be because of financial necessity or the desire to be out and about again or they may be returning to work that they find fulfilling and meaningful to them.

This brings about a whole new set of decisions to be made. You do have rights regarding the sharing of your personal information. Your medical information and treatment is protected and no one may share anything without your permission. If you have requested that your information not be shared and you find that there has been a violation, you should report the incident immediately to your Human Resources office. If you do not receive satisfaction there, you have the option to take the matter to the Labor Relations Board in your area.

You may choose to have your fellow employees know about your breast cancer. If so, the manner in which they are informed is up to you. Sometimes, women elect to have their employers inform the others in their immediate department before they return with the request that the matter not be discussed with others outside of that group. For some, they prefer to share as much as they want on an individual basis and for others, they are willing to discuss their experiences freely.

Regardless of whatever choice a person makes, it is the right of the cancer survivor to have others respect her wishes and decisions.

Edited by: Jean Campbell

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