Cancer in the Workplace

Cancer in the Workplace

A cancer diagnosis can happen to people of all ages, and recently, there has been an uptick in the number of “young” men and women diagnosed with cancer in our community. These folks are under the age of 50, and many have families and careers that they care about. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is an option to choose to continue to work during and after treatment. A cancer diagnosis throws a real curve ball in a person’s life and keeping a sense of “normalcy” can be very helpful. Therefore, continuing to work can be critical for emotional health, as well as financial health since treatment carries a huge burden of increased medical bills. For people who wish to continue to work during treatment, it is important to get informed of options and employee rights that will help in balancing work and cancer treatment.

When an employee is diagnosed with cancer in the office or worksite, it can create sadness, fear and despair throughout the entire team. Some people may have to work extra to fill in for what the cancer survivor cannot do, or does not have time to do. There can be an increased “feel” of melancholy in the air, decreased productivity, and coming to work may feel more like “work”.

If you have an employee in your office who has been diagnosed with cancer, there are things you can do to help:

  • Be flexible with their time and energy. This person was a valuable team member before they got cancer, and they still are valuable, but their energy and physical ability may be decreased during treatment. Time will be needed to attend the MANY doctor visits that are required to allow for the maximum chance of recovery.
  • After the treatment is over, give them time to gain energy and strength. The whole team will be ready for them to be “back to normal”. Cancer treatment is hard on the body, and recovery can take up to a year or more. Fatigue is a real part of cancer and needs to be addressed accordingly.
  • Remember that although cancer is physically draining, it is also emotionally draining as well. Anxiety and fear are a real part of cancer, and “being there” for cancer survivors is important. Allow them to feel, and to be sad as they try to get through some tough days, and ask them how they are doing – then be willing to listen.
  • Following treatment, many cancer survivors have a heightened need to lead a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and proper nutrition are important components of recovery, and additional time at lunch, or before or after work, may be needed to help fit exercise into their day. Your flexibility with their schedule can be very helpful.

Finally, everyone in the workplace is affected by one employee’s cancer journey – during the diagnosis, treatment, recovery and possibly end of life. Providing a time to talk about the experience with other employees can help decrease feelings of sadness in the office, and bring productivity back to normal.  Cancer Support Community offers this service with trained counselors to come to your place of work and provide time for employees to discuss their feelings and reactions. You can also find more information on the website, a national resource dedicated to helping people continue to work during and after treatment. Cancer affects us all. When it is in the workplace, there are things you can do to make it easier for everyone. Cancer survivors and your work family deserve no less.

Becky Franks, CEO, Cancer Support Community Montana