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Returning to Work After Cancer

Woman going back to work

Lucretia Hurley-Browning, MDiv, MS, Abramson Cancer Center chaplain at Pennsylvania Hospital, offers tips for returning to work after an absence due to cancer treatment.

For some of our patients, returning to work—or modifying our work—is part of our ongoing life. For caregivers, work-life balance can be part of what we juggle. Work can be important. It is part of how we give back in our lives and how we sustain ourselves and our families. It can also be part of our social network! Let’s face it, we can have significant relationships in our work setting.

While work is important, we also have to balance our energy, health and well being. Here are a few tips to think about when returning to work during or after cancer care:

1. Ask about follow-up care

If necessary, make sure you have a plan with your doctor, nurses and/or social worker to address concerns regarding physical, emotional or practical issues. It is critically important that the medical team knows exactly what each patient’s job entails. This information helps in scheduling doctor visits and the impact of time out of the office on work projects or work flow.

2. Set up an interview with your human resources (HR) department and/or manager to discuss your needs

It is always helpful to have a simple note from your treating oncologist to document any accommodations required. This can include a flexible work schedule or other treatment needs. Human resources and/or your manager should set up a plan to reasonably accommodate your requests.

3. Once back to work, move at your own pace

It is essential for your physical and emotional well-being that you do not try to put too many tasks on your plate. Scheduling periodic 10- to 15-minute breaks can help ease stress and the process of returning to work. Along with this, you must remember to…

4. Remove as many unnecessary stresses as possible

With this, it is important to be able to say “no” to tasks that are not imperative. This is so you do not become overburdened. Stress can be eased in a multitude of other ways, from eating a well-balanced diet to going out for a walk.

5. Stay true to yourself

This is the most important thing you can do.If you are naturally open, feel free to tell your coworkers how you are doing. If you need their help, let them know what they can do. If you are more private, just tell everyone that you are glad to be back at work, appreciate their asking and thank them for their interest. This approach will help protect your privacy during this time.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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