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Getting Back to Work after Your Breast Cancer Treatment

Posted by Kirti Khandelwal on Fri, Jun 3, 2016  
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Being a breast cancer patient is draining, not only physically - as your body is subjected to numerous drugs - but also emotionally, as it is hard to grapple with the reason and purpose of such a seeming nightmare! Care and concern often seems like unwanted pity, and advice is most often unsolicited. The only thing that then matters to you is your wellbeing.

One of the things that keep many women going is having a job or an occupation to return to. Some women manage to continue working during their cancer treatment. While others may return to their jobs after active cancer treatment ends. It’s up to you whether you want to work during and after cancer treatment. For many women, their financial resources, the type of work they do, and the nature of their recovery helps them decide whether and how soon they wish to get back to work.

The Challenge of Getting Back to Work

But it’s not always easy.

Workplace discrimination is a reality which affects some women who work during treatment or return to work after treatment. It is not uncommon for employers and colleagues to assume that a person who has cancer will be less productive or perform below the company's expectations. Other types of discrimination may include: getting demoted without a clear reason; an earned job promotion being withheld; getting overlooked for a new position. Some may have to deal with a lack of flexibility when requesting time off for medical appointments.

Others may be a little more fortunate, thanks to respectful and understanding colleagues and supervisors.

Either way, it’s important to keep in mind how you can make your work-life a little easier, and what can be done if the situation is intolerable to you.

Ways to Make the Transition Easier

To receive job protection, it is important to inform your employer about the cancer diagnosis. But women who are self-employed do not need to tell their current or potential clients. Of course, disclosure is always a personal decision.

Additionally, here are a few things you can do, to make things a little smooth for yourself, when you resume work after treatment:

  • Catch up with new projects or developments that occurred while you were gone.
  • Attend classes and participate in workshops to upgrade your job skills.
  • Follow online communities and support groups comprising of cancer patients and survivors to get advice and tips from them.
  • Get a letter drafted by your doctor which validates your competence to work.

You can organize your accomplishments by category; for example, “Strategic consulting” in your resume while applying for a job rather than by dates of employment. This helps in taking the focus off a gap between jobs. You also have to be ready with a positive answer if someone enquires about the employment gap; for example, “I wasn’t able to work due to some health issues but I am all set to work now”. Remember, you are not required to talk about your breast cancer diagnosis or treatment in a job interview.

What You can Do if Things Get Very Difficult at The Workplace

Sometimes, some of the discrimination you may feel at work can be easily sorted by talking to your colleagues, or a sympathizing supervisor or your HR (human resources) officer. Very often people mean well but just have a hard time expressing it, and may say the wrong thing instead.

But if the situation gets out of hand, here is what you can do:

  • A legal claim can be filed in all cases of workplace discrimination. But before you consider initiating legal action, discuss the issue with your employer, the HR department, or an employee assistance coordinator. Ask whether any kind of accommodations can be made for your job because of your situation (for e.g. flexible or condensed work hours, physical alterations to your workspace or office, or changes to your job objectives). It needs to be ascertained whether the incident can be categorized as discrimination after consulting a legal expert.
  • Talk with other people who have faced similar issues and don’t shy away from seeking help from a cancer support group.
  • It is also advised to keep all records of all occurrences of discrimination in detail which should include date of occurrence, the time it took place, at which location, all the people involved in it, and the actions taken.

Remember to do your best to stay positive through the whole journey. It’s always great to have family or close friends who will stand by you and be available to talk to or confide in when things seem too hard, or when you just need to “talk it out”.

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