Managing someone coping with the long term side effects of cancer

3 minute read time.

If you read my last blog you’ll recall that I wrote, ‘returning to work is not a sprint, it’s more like a marathon and sometimes there needs to be pauses along the way to draw breath. It’s not a seamless progression but a long and winding road’. In most cases this is a journey which can be managed but it is one which needs support, encouragement and reassurance from managers and colleagues.

But why is this the case? Well let’s be clear, many cancer treatments drain your energy and resources to such an extent. It can be an effort to just get out of bed sometimes.  Add to this the emotional turmoil – dealing with the impact and implications of the diagnosis, the dreadful uncertainty, the upheaval, the burden on you, your family and friends, is it any wonder that it takes a long time to recover?

And unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. Many treatments have significant, long-term consequences which may not have been discussed during treatment. Or if they were discussed, it was difficult to take it all in.

Additionally, some side effects do not become apparent until after treatment has finished. Some may result from the medication you are required to take. And here I am just talking about physical side effects. These might be persistent hair loss, cognitive problems or fatigue following chemotherapy, or significant bowel or bladder dysfunction following bowel cancer treatment.  But there are also emotional and psychological side effects which can persist for many years – such as a general loss of confidence, or anxiety about the future and cancer returning or spreading.

So, let’s be clear, cancer brings an enormous shift in anyone’s life And because of this it takes some people months, sometimes years to come to terms with what has happened and to find their ‘new normal’.

So, what is an employer to do in these circumstances? Remember that most employees of working age living beyond or with cancer want to return to work for a variety of reasons – social and economic. You can provide support in many forms which together will help your employee get back to work successfully. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Make use of Macmillan’s training programmes and information packs so your managers understand the longer-term effects of cancer as well as strategies for supporting people coping with these.
  • Contact Macmillan via their support line for advice about managing people with long-term conditions arising from their cancer.
  • Bear in mind the government’s Access to Work scheme which provides practical advice and support to help employees overcome work-related obstacles and awards grants towards extra employment costs. Examples of the kind of help available through Access to Work are:
    • Specialist software if using a keyboard is difficult
    • Alterations to premises or a working environment to make it more accessible
    • Help towards the additional costs of taxi fares if an employee is unable to use public transport to get to work.

Finally, a few top tips about supporting someone living with or beyond cancer who is returning to work:

  • Ensure you put a return to work plan in place in discussion with your employee but be flexible – expect the unexpected!
  • Silence is not golden – keep what adjustments you’ve made under frequent and regular review and prepare to make more if needed.
  • ‘Do unto others ...’ In other words treat all your employees affected by cancer to the same standard that you would wish to be treated.


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Barbara Wilson is Founder of Working with Cancer. For more information, visit or email me at