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Employment Troubles after Cancer

Posted 6/28/2016

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   There are a number of reasons why it can be difficult to return to work after cancer. Fatigue and stamina are surely factors as are psychological discomfort about physical changes (especially being bald!), vulnerability, and sometimes a general diminished self-confidence. There may be worries about discrimination or push back about ongoing needed absences for medical appointments. There may be concerns that colleagues are resentful of having had to take on extra work in your absence or that you are now viewed as less important and necessary. One woman I know was laid off the week before her planned return to her office manager position. Although others in the company lost their jobs, too, she was convinced that her medical leave had "proven" that they could get along without her.

  Finding a new job can be especially daunting. Few people enjoy looking for work, and worrying about a medical absence, how to explain gaps in a resume, and a reduced confidence make it harder. Having talked about this with many people through the years, I have one suggestion about explaining an absence. Remember that a potential employer is legally prohibited from asking pointed questions about your health. It is generally a smart move to mention a work gap yourself; it will be noticed, and this way you are in charge. Say something like: "You will note that I have been out of the work force for the past eighteen months. There have been some medical problems in my family, but all is well now." That is the truth. No more details needed.

  This is an introduction to a disheartening presentation at ASCO earlier this summer. Here is the start and a link to read more about the difficulties some cancer survivors have in returning to work.

Workers Lost in Transition: Employment Disparities Among Cancer Survivors 

By Victoria Blinder, MD, MSc, and Carolyn Eberle, MPH

Article Highlights

  • Cancer survivors are less likely to work than people without a history of cancer, and racial and ethnic disparities exist in employment outcomes.
  • Cancer survivors who receive accommodations in the workplace, including those who report having access to sick leave, are more likely to report that they are still working or have returned to work during the first 1 to 2 years after their diagnosis.
  • Strategies to improve employment outcomes in cancer survivors include interventions at the employer level and approaches focused on patient education/empowerment and on treatment and symptom management.

Read more:


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