Will I be able to work?

If you are fighting breast cancer, chances are you are also fighting fatigue. Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment and it often hits without warning. Everyday activities like talking on the phone, shopping for groceries, even lifting a fork to eat can become daunting tasks.

Whether you can work during breast cancer treatment depends on:

  • The type of treatment you are getting
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Your overall health
  • The kind of work you do

What you can do, and whether you will need to limit how much you do, will depend on how you feel during treatment. Some people go to work and do their usual everyday things while on treatment. Others find that they need more rest, or feel too sick to do much.

Speak with your employer about what you might need at this time. How open you are with your co-workers about your breast cancer is a personal decision. Some co-workers will be understanding and offer to help. Others may feel uncomfortable being reminded of their own mortality or resent that they may have to take on extra duties on your treatment days. In some workplaces, it may not benefit you to share details, for example if you work in a highly competitive and fast-paced environment.

There is no way to know whether you will have fatigue or how bad it will be. Although you may be protected at work by law, it is also important for you to find out how your work place provides for people living with cancer. Don’t wait until your work performance suffers before you decide to take time away from work. Speak with your manager. Explain that you want to keep working, but you feel that you need to take some time away from work. Discuss your work problems with your doctor to decide whether, or when, you should think about taking time off.

Although the public’s understanding of breast cancer is getting better, prejudice and fears are still found in the workplace. Even after your treatment has ended, you may face discrimination issues.

Here are some tips that might help you better manage your time and work:

  • Plan chemotherapy treatments late in the day or night before the weekend to allow time to recover.
  • Certain home chores could be divided among friends and relatives.
  • Keep your manager up to date on how well your schedule or other changes are working for you.
  • Most importantly, think about joining a support group. You can learn coping methods from other breast cancer survivors who have gone on to live normal, productive, lives.

Written by Rebecca Musi

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