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Balancing Act: 5 Steps to Manage Work and Treatment

Receiving a cancer diagnosis triggers an overwhelming array of decisions and inquiries. For those employed at the time of their diagnosis, deciding whether to continue working during treatment emerges as a pivotal concern. Addressing key questions about your treatment and work situation can empower you to make well-informed decisions.

Step 1: Understand Your Treatment Plan

Begin by understanding your diagnosis, prognosis, staging, and treatment plan. Engage with your entire oncology team, including surgeons, oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Discuss the expected side effects and consider the physical and mental demands of your job.

Need help understanding your treatment plan? Connect with an Iris Oncology Nurse.

Step 2: Evaluate Financial and Health Insurance Coverage

Once you have a grasp on your treatment plan, take time to evaluate your financial standing and investigate disability resources. Address questions about disability qualification, health insurance, and overall financial readiness. A few financial questions to consider: 

For in-depth exploration Know Your Resources: Work and Disability and Taking Care of Your Financial Health articles. Iris Mental Health Therapists can also assist you if you have questions or need assistance understanding your options.

Step 3: Review Job Roles and Responsibilities

Reflect on your current tasks and responsibilities. Although it might be difficult to reimagine your professional role, the key to maintaining employment during treatment might involve modifying your responsibilities. Federal policies, such as reasonable accommodations, exist to protect your rights if you need to request these adjustments.

Questions to think about:  

  • What are all 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 a committee member, that you could pause or pass along to a coworker?  

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

If you need to reduce your weekly workload, take specific days off, or request dedicated time off and are unsure about duty coverage, remember the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) safeguards your job during treatment and recovery under certain employers. With FMLA, you have the protected right to take intermittent leave, allowing flexibility in how you use your time for treatment.

Prepare your thoughts and jot down notes before discussing accommodations with your employer.

Step 4: Assess If Your Current Job Aligns with Your Needs

For some, the question centers on how to continue working through treatment. For others, it's about whether it's the right time to remain in their current role.

Ask yourself:    

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

  • Have my professional priorities changed?


Step 5: Reflect on Your Identity and Connection to Work

Acknowledge that during treatment, you may feel compelled to maintain your pre-diagnosis workload. If this resonates with you, requesting accommodations or a reduction in work duties might be the last thing on your mind.

While work is a significant part of identity and a source of joy for many, the reality for some is that working during treatment is not feasible. Taking a pause from work can create a sense of loss as your daily routine is disrupted. If you're reflecting on this connection, processing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted therapist can be beneficial.

These 5 steps are starting points. Deciding whether to work during treatment involves thinking about the reality of finances and treatment, and how your job fits into your life.

For a supportive discussion of your options, schedule a visit with an Iris Mental Health Therapist—we're here for you! 

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.