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Published on January 25, 2019

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Returning to work after cancer treatment

During and after cancer treatment, many people are often eager to get back to work. Their jobs not only provide income but also a sense of routine. Work can help people feel good about themselves.

If you've been away from work for cancer treatment, before you go back be sure to talk with your doctor and your supervisor. You will all want to make sure you're well enough to do your job. You may need to work fewer hours or do your job in a different way.

When you do return to work, the response of your co-workers about your cancer treatment may differ. Some people may be a huge source of support, while others may be a source of anger or frustration. Some people mean well, but they don't quite know the right thing to say. It may be that they just don't know how to offer support.

If co-workers seem unsupportive, it could be because they're anxious for you or for themselves. Your cancer experience may affect them because it reminds them that cancer can happen to anyone. Try to understand their fears and be patient as you regain a good relationship and reintegrate back into your work environment.

Relating to others at work

How do you relate to other people in your life when you go back to work? Does it feel good to return or do you worry how others will react? Here are some tips for returning to work:

  • Accept help. When people offer to help, consider accepting their assistance, and have in mind some things that they could do to make your life easier. In this way, you will get the support you need, and they will feel helpful.
  • Talk to others. If you find that a co-worker's feelings about cancer are hurting you, try to resolve the problem with that person face-to-face. If it's still affecting your work after that, your manager, employee assistance counselor or personnel office may be able to help.
  • Address problems that come up from the start. Supervisors or co-workers may be able to help those around you understand how you want to be treated.
  • Try to keep up contacts during your recovery. Co-workers will worry about you. But if they are kept up-to-date about your progress, they will be less anxious and scared. You may want to talk to them on the phone, send email or appoint a trusted friend or family member to do this for you. Your return to work or other activities will be easier for you and others if you stay in touch.
  • Plan what you'll say about your cancer. There is no right way to deal with others about your illness, but it can be helpful to think in advance about what you'll say when you're back on the job. Some people don't want to focus on their cancer or be linked in people's minds with the disease. Others are very open about it, speaking frankly with their boss or colleagues to air concerns, correct wrong ideas and decide how to work together. The best approach is the one that feels right to you.

*Article adapted from the National Cancer Institute.

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Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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