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going back to work after cancer - oncovia

Going Back to Work after Cancer

Cancer treatments are usually long and impose extended sick leave due to difficult side effects. Generally, a woman with breast cancer or a man with prostate cancer undergoing Chemotherapy treatments stop working for at least 6 months.

Depending on the type of cancer and treatments, time off from work can vary between 6 months to 1 year. It is during this time that you may be fully cut off from the work environment and things may have changed during your absence (change in team, new employees, new organisation…). When you come back to work, you will need time to adjust.

But it is not just your work environment that may have changed, you may have changed too. Your cancer may have changed the way you see things, your priorities… Maybe you decided to give more importance to your career… or less.

Helpful tip: Going back to work is important when you start rebuilding your life after cancer and to make sure that everything goes smoothly, you must be in control! Avoid cutting yourself off from the world during your illness and try staying in contact with work friends. They can keep you informed about any changes within the company and therefore, better preparing you for when you go back. It will make it a lot easier for you to re-adapt.

Keeping in contact with your colleagues

During your illness, your work friends may have showed compassion, empathy and concern, however, a lot of the time they expect everything to go back to normal… Which is never the case.

The way your colleagues see you may have changed, your absence may have disrupted their organisation and way of working. At the same time, you risk being slower in your tasks as you try to get back on the wagon, not as efficient as before. Maybe there is a new boss that is less concerned about your situation than the previous one. Either way, you will need to anticipate all these changes.

If you are comfortable discussing your illness, you could offer to talk to your Manager, show them that you are still interested in the future of the company. Even if you have no obligation to them, you could talk about your illness and any eventual problems that you may encounter once you come back. This will help you determine how the situation is perceived and should help with your return.

Helpful tip: Take your time with certain colleagues and your Manager. Explain that you have changed and that things are not like before, that you need time to readapt. Try to keep an open mind in certain situations, especially when people do not understand, and anticipate inappropriate reactions that may occur when you are back in the office. Stay informed about any changes and/or evolutions that may have come about during your absence. Your points of reference may have changed, it is best to be prepared!

Heavy side effects due to Treatments

Cancer treatments are aggressive, and even though they efficiently destroy tumour cells, they are not any less toxic for the body: Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, Hormonotherapy, Immunotherapy. You may have beat your cancer, but it has also left you KO.

Fatigue is the number one effect that can impact your work. Whenever you feel exhausted, take a break! Files that you could have managed in one day are now going to take even longer. This is completely normal, but you may have the feeling that you are less efficient or that you do not deserve to be in this job. Take your time and analyse your situation in a few months.

Difficulties remembering things and concentrating are also frequent, especially after Chemotherapy. Sleeping problems may also occur that worsen the other effects. Doctors sometimes talk about “Chemo Brain”, where patients often forget what they are looking for, they forget their words and miss appointments. The idea of going back to work can also cause anxiety.

In certain cases, physical side effects may prevent the person from going back to work. For example, jobs that require heavy lifting. After breast cancer, lymphedema may also limit movements due to swelling.

Sometimes, you may have to say goodbye to your old job. It is perfectly normal to ask questions about your capacity to return to your job, handle a full day of work, find your points of reference, etc. Do not hesitate to talk to your Doctor, he/she is responsible for helping make the right decisions in regard to your health and will be able to orient you in the right direction job-wise, and offer other solutions.

Helpful tip: During treatments, engage in activities that will stimulate your cognitive capacities (Sudoku, crosswords…). These games will help prevent any difficult situations that you may encounter when you return to the workforce, especially when you work on several tasks at the same time. Despite your fatigue, continue having a social life and learning, also try to exercise during your treatments… All these recommendations help maintain your cognitive capacities.

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