5 Tips for Reintegrating to Work and Life after Cancer Treatment
Cancer healing is a lifelong journey, and doesn’t always necessarily end with the conclusion of cancer treatment. Even in remission, the experience of cancer can still have a profound effect on patients on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Reentering the workforce, resuming prior responsibilities, and rejoining social activities (should you choose to do so) may be jarring as you adjust to a new normal. Below, we’ve compiled some of our top considerations to help ease the transition.
1. Go at your own pace
Though it may be tempting to jump back into work, household, and social activities all at once, remember that you must take care of yourself first in order to take care of others. One helpful way of remembering this is by thinking long-term. As activities resume, schedules can easily get busy – but taking time to consider if the task at hand serves your long-term health can help you create effective boundaries for your time and energy. Check in with yourself to determine what level of responsibility you are comfortable with, and gradually increase (or decrease!) it as you feel necessary. Continue to exercise what you’ve learned through the Hope4Cancer BEST program by practicing self-love and acceptance during each stage of this major life transition.
2. Conduct regular self check-ins
As you do add more responsibilities to your plate, you may feel like life starts to move much faster. It may help to set a recurring date in your calendar every few weeks or so to conduct regular self check-ins. Some questions to consider include:
- How do I feel about my current work or task load?
- Do the tasks at hand keep my long-term health goals in mind?
- What am I doing to integrate moments of rest and peace throughout my day?
- Do I feel a sense of purpose in the tasks I am participating in?
- Am I currently operating in work and life both efficiently and happily?
- Would adding or removing responsibilities from my plate be beneficial to me?
- What am I telling myself about my capability/capacity?
Be sure to check in on your physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, reflecting on how each one is affected by your current responsibility load.
3. Utilize support
Whether it be requesting accommodations from an employer or leaning on loved ones for emotional support, asking for help can be a powerful tool. However, if returning back to social circles feels isolating, remember that you are not alone. You may wish to consider joining an emotional support group where you can connect with fellow survivors who are also navigating the ups and downs of life after cancer treatment. For example, The Cancer Support Community can help connect you to cancer patients and peers online — and of course, the Hope4Cancer family is always available to you as well.
4. Give yourself grace AND space
During any major life transition, it’s natural for change to occur both externally and internally. As you resume activities or responsibilities that were familiar prior to your diagnosis, some things might feel different in either your environment or yourself. Above all else, be patient and kind to yourself as you process these changes. If you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, remember that you can choose what narrative to give power to. Negative thoughts and emotions are normal to experience, but that does not mean we have to identify with those thoughts or emotions. The thoughts you choose to give power to can significantly impact your perception of reality.
5. Learn the legalities of returning to work (understand how you’re protected)
According to a cancer statistics study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, approximately 45% of cancer patients are of working age (1). Returning to work after cancer treatment is a personal choice that provides its own set of both benefits and challenges, but there are many policies in place to help protect U.S. cancer survivors. Understanding your legal rights can help you better navigate this decision and know what to expect should you decide to resume work. A good place to start is by researching the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prevents current and future employers from asking about your medical history. It also protects people with disabilities (including cancer by law) from discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable adjustments at work to enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):The FMLA allows qualifying cancer patients, survivors, and family members to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to obtain medical care or manage symptoms. (Time off does not have to be consecutive.)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The EEOC enforces both the ADA and FMLA, and is a great resource for survivors reentering the workplace. If you ever feel you are being treated unfairly, you can contact the EEOC at: (800) 669-4000 or www.eeoc.gov.
Howlader, N. N. A. M., et al. SEER cancer statistics review, 1975–2016. National Cancer Institute, 2019.