Cancer and work - how the Community can help

An image of two colleagues in a meeting at work

When you have cancer, or you’re supporting a loved one with cancer, it can affect many areas of your life. When people are being diagnosed earlier and often retiring later in life, it’s likely that many members of the Community will be of working age.

When you’re already dealing with diagnosis and treatment, it can be difficult when your workplace doesn’t completely understand. Employers might not be aware of all your rights at work. Colleagues might do their best to support you, but not appreciate the full impact of your cancer diagnosis or side effects of cancer treatment.

If you’re struggling with work issues, it can help to be able to talk things through with others. You can ask questions and get support from people just like you in the Community. Whatever your situation, whether you’re an employee, or self-employed, there’s likely to be a member who has been through it themselves.

Macmillan are here to help with dedicated work support. In this blog, we’ll also highlight how you can access support from the Work Support team here on the Community.

When you're affected by cancer, you may need time off work to have tests, appointments and treatments. You may also need time to cope with your feelings. For example if you feel anxious, shocked or upset. Some people stop working during cancer treatment and for a while after until they feel ready to go back. Others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or changes to their job.

If you're struggling with any of these issues, it can really help to be able to talk them through in your Community groups.

"As expected I am currently off sick from work but am now being constantly harassed by my employer as to when I will be returning to work as I seem to be coping so well. I know I have been extremely fortunate not to have suffered extreme side effects but they have been slightly worse this time. I have tried to explain to my boss days are unpredictable and a good day can suddenly become an uphill struggle but it is falling on deaf ears. My oncologist has advised me to concentrate on my treatment and recovery but the constant questions from my boss is beginning to wear me down."    

- Community member, womb cancer forum  

"I plan to go back to work next week as that seems the next step to take but I feel quite anxious. The treatment may have finished but my head is filled with uncertainty and sadness some days.  Feelings I don’t want to worry my family and friends with.  When I’m around others, I’m the chatty, funny person but when I’m on my own my mind goes into overdrive. I can’t keep saying ‘I’m fine’ because I’m not sure I am. Does anyone else feel this way and if so do you have any suggestions on what to do"

-Community member, breast cancer forum

"I returned to work a few weeks ago having been off for 12 months. I'm lucky to be on a phased return and I'm not doing any 'real work' just yet. So before I commit myself to anything else, I need to see how I go with being back and working more to capacity, otherwise I'll start to do what I've done so often in the past and try and take on too much."

-Community member, life after cancer forum 

"My next phase is to return to work, i was put on sick pay from the first day of my operation then moved to furlough, as the Managing Director does not feel he has the expertise or capacity for someone like me returning to work? I haven`t a clue what he meant so I asked in what context he was referring and had no response...

...Have any of you had a similar problem when returning to work and how did you tackle it in a positive way, even though you were aware you were being faced with barriers to returning after going through so much and no fault of our own we were just unlucky getting cancer?"

- Community member, breast cancer forum

Some people are unable to return to their original employment when they've had cancer. But if you still feel able to work, it can be hard to find a new direction. Sharing your experience with other members on the Community about their life after cancer can be really helpful.

"Has anybody left their job post cancer? If so, any tips in overcoming anxiety and stress about adapting to life after cancer?"

Community member, life after cancer forum

You do not have to tell your employer you have cancer. But if your employer knows about your illness, they may be able to make reasonable adjustments. For example, this could mean time off for hospital appointments or flexible working hours. 

The Community forums also include support for members caring for a loved one with cancer. Balancing work and caring can be demanding. If you're finding it difficult to juggle work and support your loved one, you're not alone. Carers can share their thoughts and get support from members of the 'carers only' forum.

"It does sound as though you are under a tremendous amount of strain so no wonder you feel so fed up at times. I get it. I've spent the past year juggling looking after my terminally ill husband, supporting our kids deal with their dad's situation, working full time and trying to keep myself going. It's a tough gig some days."

- Community member, carers only forum

It's really important that you're aware of your rights at work when you have cancer, or are a carer for someone with cancer.

"I didn’t not feel altogether supported by my employers during my time off sick and was ‘short changed’ over a phased return to work. I posted here and got some great advise to contact Macmillan employment advisors as I had legal rights that I was unaware of." 

- Community member, life after cancer forum

You can find out more about your rights at work on Macmillan's information and support pages here. 

In addition to providing advice to employees and self-employed people, Macmillan also provide a service to employers. Macmillan at Work provides information, training and resources for employers to help them support staff affected by cancer. 

If you're a carer, you can find dedicated advice and support for your work life on Macmillan's website here.

In addition to contacting the Macmillan Work Support team by telephone, email and webchat, you can also get your questions answered here on the Community. Whether you have issues with an unsupportive boss, job interview following treatment, or need a day off work to support your loved one with their appointment we can help. 

"I am very sorry to hear your boss is putting you under so much pressure to return to work. You certainly should not be made to feel that you should give your treatment up due to the pressure you are under. I am hoping that the advice I give you will help you agree a way forward."

- Emma G - Macmillan, Ask a Work Support Advisor

"I wanted to make you aware of your protection from disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (if you live in Northern Ireland) following your cancer diagnosis. These Acts define a cancer diagnosis as a disability and apply both in the workplace and during the recruitment process.   Under these Acts you should not be discriminated against for any reason related to your cancer and the Acts also allow you to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to help you overcome any substantial difficulties you may face due to it."

- Rachel H - Macmillan, Ask a Work Support Advisor 

"You should not feel ashamed that your disability is causing you difficulties in completing your work. I would like to look at options for moving forward and hopefully improving your relationship with your boss rather than having to resign."

- Emma G - Macmillan, Work Support Advisor, Ask a Work Support Advisor

You can read through all the questions and answers in 'Ask a Work Support Advisor' in the session here.

If you would like advice about cancer and work, please use the +new button (or + on a mobile) to post your own question in 'Ask a Work Support Advisor'. The team will aim to respond within 1 working day. 

Alternatively get in touch through the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, email or live webchat The members of Work Support Service work Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm.

Do you have your own worries about cancer and work? Why not start a discussion in one of your groups? It can help to talk and feel much less alone. 

If the Community or Work Support Team has supported you with cancer and work issues, why not let us know by commenting below?

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