Survivorship at the workplace

Dr Inge Kriel gives guidance on how to transition back into the workplace after a cancer diagnosis.

Breast cancer survivors have so many roles to fulfil: mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend and colleague to name but a few. Transitioning to the ‘new normal’ of cancer survivor may be a daunting task in itself. Dealing with side effects of chemotherapy, surgery and tamoxifen may be further complicated by the need to return to work. 

While work can have a positive influence on your state of mind – it  may help you cope better by diverting attention away from your cancer diagnosis – it may also be a source of stress.

How do you adjust to the  rigours of work while navigating the sometimes rocky terrain of survivorship? 

I advise my patients to communicate clearly with their employers. Explain clearly to your boss upfront as to what side effects you are experiencing and how they may affect your ability to work. 

• Firstly, co-ordinate a meeting with senior management and human resources to discuss a way forward that will be acceptable for both parties. Discuss strategies going  forward:

1) Flexible working hours to assist with fatigue.

2) Temperature control – can environment be modified to make managing hot flushes easier?
a. Aircon/fans
b. Open windows
c. Access to water cooler

3) Modification of dress code to ease hot flushes.

Know your rights. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your employment contract and are aware of what you are entitled to in terms of sick leave. Educate yourself so that you are not taken advantage of by your employer.  

• Set up an appointment with a survivorship specialist to help cope with side effects. There are medications that may alleviate hot flushes, promote hair re-growth, relieve dry skin, and assist with muscle cramps. Managing side effects will aid in a successful transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor, and smooth your return to the working environment.

• Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Know your limits. Respect that your body and mind need time to heal. Find a healthy balance between work and rest.  Don’t push yourself too hard. Communicate your limits clearly and succinctly. Delegate where and when possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are not coping.

Dr Inge Kriel is an oncology care physician practicing at Netcare Milpark Hospital.


Dr Inge Kriel is an oncology care physician practicing at Netcare Milpark Hospital.

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