Cancer survivors may experience a mixed bag of emotions associated with going back to work.
You may feel relief, apprehension, hope or even a sense of awkwardness. Although somewhat difficult, working can also bring along many benefits.
Your job may be a positive reminder to you, telling you that you possess a life apart from cancer treatment – You are a cherished employee, an awesome boss or a trusted co-worker. Working and being around colleagues can boost your confidence and, not to mention, your income.
Your decision to return to work can be an empowering step in your recovery journey. Some people find it easy to take the plunge while others require a period of adjustment, but in all things, please be gentle and patient with yourself.
Though research has shown that cancer survivors who continue to work are as productive as their colleagues, it is common for some to experience a sense of insecurity and feel the need to do more than they can manage to ‘prove’ their efficiency. It is also unfortunate that sometimes others may doubt your ability to work and pass disparaging remarks.
Here are some suggestions on how you can manage your transition from patient to a working cancer survivor:
- Be in touch with your psyche. It is imperative that you feel psychologically competent and confident to return to your workplace. If you are feeling below par, do approach your CanHOPE counsellor for a one-on-one counselling session or join a support group consisting of other cancer patients returning to work.
- Keep in touch with close colleagues during your recovery: Your colleagues may worry about you and have many concerns. Do keep some of your closer co-workers abreast of your progress. While recuperating, you may talk to them on the phone, send emails, or appoint a trusted friend or family member to do this for you. When you are able to, do drop by for lunch with your close colleagues or attend the office party. Maintaining connections will help you ease back to your work routine.
- Speak to your doctor and ask him/her for an official letter to your employer to state your fitness for work or to indicate if your cancer may affect your work responsibilities or scheduling.
- Schedule medical reviews/appointments: Make appointments for follow-up visits during lunch hours or during time slots that do not conflict with your work responsibilities.
- Plan what to say about your cancer. There is NO one correct way to communicate your condition.
Colleagues or business associates may be concerned or curious and ask questions on how you are feeling or on your treatment process. How much to reveal is entirely dependent on how comfortable you feel with sharing information with the other party. This is a personal decision that others will have to respect. You may opt to simply thank them for their concern, say that you are doing well and leave it as such.
Please do not be pressured to explain. Some cancer survivors choose to avoid focusing on their cancer or to be associated with the disease in people's minds. Others are very open and find it meaningful to advocate cancer education, health checks and early detection. The best approach is the one that feels right to you.
- Accept help. Please say yes when friends or family offer to help while you are away at work. Have in mind some things that they could do to make your transition easier. You will get the support you need, and your loved ones will feel that they can be of help to you. Some examples may be allowing your parents or in-laws to ferry your children to school or to have home-cooked dinner at your friend’s place.
- Take a look at your workstation. You may consider getting it redesigned or fitted with equipment such as back-supports or other devices to make yourself more comfortable.
- Have an open dialogue with your employer and ask for help if you need it. Before resuming work, you may discuss with your employer and HR department on possible alternatives such as flexi-time, working from home, or job-sharing. You may even opt for a less demanding role or a company internal transfer. Do discuss these matters before you resume work as these options do provide a peace of mind and can ease your body into the demands of the job.
- Address any problems promptly: Your supervisor or co-workers may be able to help others around you understand how you want to be treated as a cancer survivor. Do be open to talk with your bosses or Human Resources department should you experience any form of discrimination that obstructs your work. If you feel that a co-worker's actions or the way he talks about cancer are hurting you, try to resolve the problem with that person face-to-face. If it continues to affect your work, approach your manager, company medical department, employee assistance counsellor, or HR personnel for help.