Iris Mini: Balancing Work and Treatment

When you first receive a cancer diagnosis there can be an overwhelming number of questions to ask and decisions to make. Among the top priorities for patients with cancer that are working is figuring out if they can and should continue to work while they are in treatment.

Asking yourself the following series of questions about both your treatment and work situation can help you discern the best option for you.

What's My Treatment Plan?

Understanding your diagnosis, prognosis, staging, and treatment plan is a helpful place to start when you are considering your options for work. You may want to coordinate with all members of your oncology team, including surgeons, oncologists, and radiation oncologists to discuss:

  • Your understanding of your diagnosis, staging of your cancer, prognosis, and planned length of treatment with each physician in your oncology team

    • Keep in mind that the next step in the treatment plan might be recommended after one treatment is complete. For example, radiation and chemotherapy recommendations may come after surgery is complete.

  • Expected side effects for each treatment

  • The type of work you perform, including the physical and mental demands of your job

If you continue to have trouble understanding your treatment plan after speaking with your oncology physician(s) or need further support addressing side effects of treatment, contact an Iris oncology nurse from the homepage of your Iris mobile app.

What are My Financial and Health Insurance Concerns?

Once you understand what to expect from your treatment, evaluating your financial situation and disability resources are important. The Know Your Resources: Work and Disability article may be helpful, in addition to considering these financial questions:

Assessing your financial situation and needs during a serious illness can be stressful. Taking care of your financial health is an important part of your overall wellbeingIris mental health therapists can further assist you if you become overwhelmed during this process.

What Does My Job Ask of Me?

Taking the time to reflect on each of your tasks and duties will assist you in considering if you are able to work while in treatment. It can be difficult to think of your professional role as different than it currently looks, but the key factor to being able to continue working while in treatment may be if you can adjust your duties. There are federal policies is place that protect you when asking for these changes, referred to as reasonable accommodations.

Questions to consider about your employment:

  • What are all of your job responsibilities, physical and mental?

  • How flexible is your work environment?

  • Can the timing of your work be shifted to fit your treatment schedule?

  • Can you decrease the overall workload and take intermittent leave?

  • Have you taken on additional tasks, such as committee member, that you could pause or be passed along to a coworker?

  • How stressful is your job? Will the stress of work interfere with your ability to be present for treatment?

Reflect on these questions for yourself before meeting with your employer to discuss any reasonable accommodations and/or how much time you think you need. Having a sense of what changes you need at work will help to ensure your needs are met. If you know you need to reduce the amount you work each week, take certain days off or have dedicated time off, but are uncertain how your duties will be fulfilled, you may have legal rights. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is in place under certain types of employers to protect your job while you are in treatment and recovery.

Is This Job Where I Want to Be?

While for some the question is how they can continue working while under treatment, for others the question becomes if the timing is right to stay in their job altogether.

Questions to consider:

  • If I leave or retire from my job, will I lose needed health insurance or disability benefits?

  • Have my professional priorities changed?

Is My Identity Connected to My Work?

It is important to acknowledge that during treatment you may feel compelled to continue working at the same capacity as before your diagnosis. If this applies to you, the idea of asking for accommodation or a decrease in work duties might be the last thing you want to do. Work is an important part of identity for many people and can be a welcome distraction and source of joy. However, the reality for some is that working while in treatment is not realistic. Pausing from work can create a sense of loss as our daily routine is disrupted.

There is a lot to review when deciding whether to work during treatment. The reality of finances and treatment, along with how your job impacts your life, all need to be considered. It can be helpful to process your thoughts and feelings with a trusted therapist. You can always schedule a visit with an Iris mental health therapist via your home screen to talk through your concerns about working during treatment — we're here for you!