Should You Work During Your Breast Cancer Treatment?

Things to Consider When it Comes to Working During Treatment

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Question: Can I Work During Treatment for Breast Cancer?

You have a breast cancer diagnosis and a treatment plan, your calendar is filling up quickly, and you feel like you've taken on a second job!  Perhaps you're wondering if you can keep working while you're in treatment for breast cancer. Consider your health, your treatment plan, and your financial situation - then decide on whether or not continuing to work will work for you.

How to Consider Balancing Work and Treatment

Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor about the kind of work you do. Describe your tasks and responsibilities as well as how much time you are normally at work. Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner about possible side effects you should expect with treatment, and how these can be managed. Be realistic about your present health, the stage of your cancer, and other commitments you may have away from the job. Remember that effects of treatment are cumulative, and that as you near the end of treatment, you may need a block of unbroken time in which to recover. With these factors in mind, consider your ability to keep working while in treatment for breast cancer.

Give A Little, Take A Little

Be sure you know your employer's sick leave policy and your workplace rights before you tell your boss about your diagnosis. Prepare a list of ways that you might compromise and still fulfill your obligations.

Be clear that you want to keep working, but may need reasonable accommodation in order to work. Ask about:

  • Telecommuting or working from your home
  • Cross training and sharing your work duties with other employees
  • Flextime meaning changing your work hours or cutting back on hours

Taking a Break From Work

Sometimes the side effects of treatment or the cancer itself will get the best of your energy and health.

If that happens, you may decide not to work through treatment. Talk with your supervisor and the human resources department about taking a leave, or getting short-term disability insurance to tide you over for a while. Speak with your doctor about how you're feeling and ask if you would qualify for disability. If you settle on quitting work for now, look into Social Security Disability Insurance, so you will still be covered for medical expenses.

Reconsider Your Decision Over Time

None of us can predict exactly how we will feel during cancer treatment, so take some time at intervals during your treatment to rethink your decision. You may decide that you were overzealous and that working won't work for you.  In contrast, you may have taken off time, but feel bored and anxious to return to your job.  Many of us find social support among those we work with, and what appeared to be a time of peace away from the grind may instead feel lonely. Be flexible, and give yourself the benefit of being able to change your mind.

Working Through Breast Cancer Treatment

Many patients do work through breast cancer treatment. If you've confided in your co-workers, they can help support you on the job. On days that you need extra help, they might give you a ride or help with demanding tasks, while on other days when you're at home, they may be willing to bring work to you.

If some of your co-workers are uncomfortable around you, just try to let it go. Pick your battles carefully and hoard your energy for important things.

Helpful Resources

Become familiar with the provisions provided by the Amercians with disabilities act.  The organization Cancer and Careers has a multitude of resources and can provide expert advice to help people thrive at the workplace during cancer treatment.


American Cancer Society. Americans With Disabilities Act: Information for People Facing Cancer. Updated 11/21/14.

American Cancer Society. Working During Cancer Treatment. Updated 04/14/14.

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