Resources for Balancing Work and Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

APRIL 05, 2018

  Trying to balance work and cancer is often a moving and challenging target. Almost everyone who receives a cancer diagnosis will need to take some time away from work. This can be anything from parts of days, especially in the beginning, to meet with doctors and develop a treatment plan to having a long hospital admission (e.g. people undergoing a bone marrow transplant). Somewhere in between are most people who will need surgery and radiation and/or chemotherapy of another systemic treatment. 

  You are lucky if you have a secure job with benefits. It can still be difficult to figure out how to take time off, but having a steady income source from Earned Time or Vacation Time or Short or Long Term Disability makes a big difference. Some people work places where colleagues can donate time to them. Unfortunately, many people have jobs where they are only paid if they show up for work. This almost certainly means lost income. Since (as I have written about in the past) cancer treatment inevitably brings some additional bills, this is even worse. If you are in this situation or any other where finances are a major issue, speak up. Ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to the oncology social worker or financial assistance person of whomever is in your setting who can help. Here at BIDMC, we have a wonderful Community Resource Specialist whose job is exactly this.

  Other work-related questions include how much to share about your situation and with whom to share it. You have to tell your immediate manager or supervisor and HR. Generally you end up having to tell at least some close colleagues, but there can be wiggle room there depending upon the job. If, for example, you work remotely, it is easier to keep your silence than it is if you are in the middle of a busy office. 

  The list of professional questions can go on and on, and they change over time. Your concerns at diagnosis are different than they will be later. I have been working with a young women who has just taken a new job after almost a year away from work due to cancer treatment and a slow recovery. She is now trying to figure out how much to say about what she has experienced and how to explain/ask for the time she will need for follow up doctor appointments.

  Fortunately for us all, there is a fabulous resource to help with these and any other questions. Cancer and Careers has a comprehensive website and a robust program of webinars. Here is some information about those and a link to read more. I strongly encourage you to at least bookmark their site. At some point, you will be glad to have it.

Cancer and Careers’ 2018 Balancing Work & Cancer Webinar Series offers ten sessions related to the challenges of balancing work and cancer

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