Working during Chemo - how do I plan/prepare?

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I am recovering from lumpectomy and lymph node removal 10 days ago. Results appointment yesterday and Chemo will be starting in 5-6 weeks.

I feel completely overwhelmed.

I started a new (lovely) full time (Work from home) job in March and had to tell them I had cancer on my 3rd day! They have been lovely - but I am struggling to know how to tackle what is now coming - I was always hoping to avoid chemo.

How do 'reasonable' adjustment's translate into how you are paid/what I will earn? I am a lone parent and so it's all on me.

I love my job and I'm new to it - zoom meetings with no hair feel impossible to do, and I'm worried about fatigue v's concentration.  

If I can only work part time - do I still get paid full time (irony for the hours I actually work)? It's a small company so I feel I will be taking the Micky but I need to pay the bills, support my children. I can't expect them to keep paying me full time salary if I'm off more than I'm able to contribute can I?

I don't even know where to start. Is even working during chemo - in a job that requires detail and concentration even viable - should I be facing being signed off and try and give myself the best chance of a speedy recovery?

I know there are no answers and every case is different.  I don't even know the shape of my chemo plan for a couple of weeks until my appointment with oncology - but at the moment I don't even know how to shape an initial conversation with my employer following my results to leave as many options as open as possible... or what I should strive for?

Sorry I realise that's a big muddle... hope you can help me unravel this a little. Thank you.

  • Hi

    It's Matthew here from Macmillan's Online Community team. Thank you for posting your question to our Work Support Advisers.

    I am just responding to your message to let you know that our Work Support team has seen your question, and are working to reply as soon as they can. We hope you will find it helpful to hear from our Work Support team, and that you are able to access the right support.

    In the meantime, we hope you'll find lots of support from reading other posts in the Ask an Expert section and by posting in our Community groups. If you need any help using the Online Community, please don't hesitate to email or call our Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00.

    All the best,
    Macmillan Online Community Team

  • Hello SweetiePie


    Thank you for contacting us here at Macmillan.  My name is Linda and I am a Work Support Advisor on Macmillan’s National Support Line.  My team provides guidance on your rights at work when you are affected by cancer.  I am so sorry to read about your Cancer diagnosis  I am pleased that your new Employer is being supportive.  I’d like to provide you with some information which I hope will help you.  Calling into our Support Line is always an option if you prefer and details of our contact details and opening hours can be found here.

    Employers have a duty to consider Reasonable Adjustments at work to support Employees affected by Cancer, it might be useful for me to provide some information about the legislation which underpins this.  In case you are not aware, the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (if you live in Northern Ireland) defines cancer as a disability.  This means that anyone with a cancer diagnosis considered to be disabled under the Act and providing the employer is aware of the diagnosis, should not discriminated against because of it.  This protection is lifelong and does not depend on an active cancer diagnosis. 

    I have attached a link our booklet Your Rights at Work which explains more about the Equality Act and how disabled employees are protected in the workplace. 

    With regards to possibly working reduced hours as a Reasonable Adjustment, your Employer is only obliged to pay you for the hours that you work unless your employment contract or company policy states differently. You can ask if you could use some annual leave entitlement to top up your hours if this will be unpaid.

    As you mention already, everyone is different. Some people can work during their treatment whilst other people are not able to do so. It may depend on side effects of treatment. I would advise that you do check what your company sick pay policy is, in the event that you are required to take time off work sick.

    Whist on sick leave you also accrue annual leave which can be taken at a later stage to help boost your income should you require this. You can accrue a maximum of 20 days to be taken within 18 months of returning to work after sick leave.

    As everyone responds to treatment differently, it would be advisable to initially see how you are coping during and after your chemotherapy sessions. If you then feel that you could perform  some or all your role whilst undergoing treatment, then this is something the employer should accommodate for you. It may be an idea to speak to your medical team about the possibility of working during your treatment as they can support with answering your questions too.

    I can understand the anxiety you may experience if you are required to attend Zoom Meetings at work. It would be advisable to ask as a reasonable adjustment, to have your camera turned off if you are worried about colleagues seeing you whilst undergoing your treatment and the impact of this on your appearance.

    If your income reduces due working less hours, then it may also be helpful to have a full Benefit Check with one of our Welfare Rights Advisers to ensure that you are not losing out on any potential Financial Support as a lone parent. They can be contacted on 0808 808 0000. The opening times are 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday to Friday and between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday. To navigate the menus on the support line please press option 1 followed by option 2 and then option 2 again to get through to the team.

    I do hope this has answered your concerns but please do not hesitate to get back in touch if you have any further questions.


    Kind Regards


    Work Support Advisor


    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email