Assistant Professor Ginger Hanson, who studies work-life integration, has developed a hybrid expertise in occupational health and research methods and statistics. So as she underwent treatment after her own breast cancer diagnosis in 2015—and continued to work—she also gained insight into what constitutes a successful transition back to health at work and at home and what factors help determine that success.
“I was the primary breadwinner for my family and our source of medical insurance. I needed to work throughout my cancer treatment,” Hanson told Oncology Nursing News. “Work was also an anchor to the routines and order of my normal life, a source of meaning, self-esteem, and social support. … I never questioned whether I would work, only how.”
She offers helpful tips for those who care for cancer patients who are maintaining jobs through treatment, as well as for patients themselves:
- One study indicates that just 1 in 4 people undergoing cancer treatment reports receiving work-related advice from a medical provider, although those who did were more likely to return to work afterward.
- Learn about national and local employment laws related to medical leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for instance, allows workers at companies with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Employed spouses may also use FMLA leave to care for their family members. And the leave can be taken intermittently, so employees can use this policy to take time off as needed to recover from adverse effects and work on the days they feel more like themselves.
- Patients should familiarize themselves with workplace benefits. Can you work from home? Cancer survivors may appreciate privacy as they adjust to possible changes such as hair loss, ostomy bags, and mastectomies.
- Those with earlier-stage cancers, curative surgeries, and no postoperative complications will likely have the easiest time returning to work quickly. But health care providers and patients should discuss work duties and workplace polices, flexibility and support systems. Survivors returning to work should be aware of lingering fatigue and other adverse effects.
- Learn patient preferences for follow-up contact. Patients should be sure to share these up front. Many employees do not have a private space at work to take calls or process news.