Recovery from bowel cancer and work problems.

I had bowel cancer surgery three years ago. Firstly I must say I'm glad to be here in one piece (a bit missing) thanks to surgeon Dr Sopylo in Warsaw, so I'm not complaining. The problem is recovery. My large intestine seems to have a mind of its own, especially after food. I work as a supply teacher and can't afford to retire. Work can be difficult and embarrassing with the need at times to run to the toilet every few minutes.

Can I register as disabled or get any help? I don't like asking. I've worked all my life with almost no time off on the sick. I've worked for 40 years with a damaged arm nerve. As a young lad I continued working with a broken jaw. But it's getting to be a big problem at 64.

Also - will this bowel ever get back to normal? I exercise and eat a good diet. What should I do?

  • Hi

    Thank you for contacting us here at Macmillan.  My name is Rachel 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.

    It is good to read that your surgery was successful, however I am sorry to read that your recovery continues to be challenging.  I’d like to provide some information which I hope will help you in understanding what might be possible by way of support.

    It is not clear from your message whether you are based in the UK, especially since you mention that your surgery took place in Warsaw.   As a UK-based charity, we are unable to provide advice on employment rights or provide clinical guidance if you are not receiving treatment in the UK or employed under a UK-based contract.  

    My advice is therefore given on the assumption that you are UK-based.  If this is not the case, it would be worthwhile exploring whether it would be possible to access similar advice or guidance from organisations or charities within the jurisdiction in which you live.

    In case you are not aware, it may be useful to know that due to your cancer diagnosis you are considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (if you live in Northern Ireland).

    As disability is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the above legislation your employer should not discriminate against you because of your cancer and has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support you in the workplace. 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 you are protected in the workplace. 

    Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged in the workplace. They should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.  

    You can request a reasonable adjustment in the workplace, providing you can relate it back to your cancer. Your employer has a duty to consider all reasonable adjustments and a failure to do so could suggest disability discrimination. If your employer rejects a reasonable adjustment request, they need to be able to demonstrate why it is “unreasonable” for them to accommodate or it could suggest that you are being treated less favourably as a disabled person. If you feel this applies, it would be advisable to seek further advice. 

    I would be worthwhile considering whether any reasonable adjustments may help you in the workplace and think about asking for these when you are at work.

    I can see that you have asked about registering as disabled and about getting help.  If by this, you would like to explore what practical support might exist for you, then you could contact our team of Information and Support Advisors on our Support Line who can be contacted every day of the year between 8am and 8pm on 0808 808 0000, options 1, then 1 again.  They can also be contacted via LiveChat and by Email They can help you explore any practical support that might be available to you as well as providing you with that all-important space to talk.  They can also advise on accessing emotional support if you felt it would help you.

    If you also wanted to explore any financial support available to you for the days when working may be very difficult, then we do have a team of Welfare Rights Advisors who can help. The team can explore any welfare benefits or help towards costs which might be available to you and are available on 0808 808 0000, options 1, 2 and 2.  They can also be contacted via LiveChat and by Email.  Their opening hours are 8am until 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am until 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

    I can see that you mention not being able to afford to retire but if you have a private or workplace pension you would like to discuss, our team of Financial Guides will be able to talk to you.  They are available on 0808 808 0000, options 1, 2 and 1. They can also be contacted via LiveChat and by Email.  Their opening hours are 8am until 6pm Monday to Friday.

    I’m afraid as a non-clinical advisor, I am unable to provide guidance on your query about your bowel getting back to normal, however this is something our team of nurses would be happy to support you with.  They can be contacted every be contacted every day of the year between 8am and 8pm on 0808 808 0000, options 1, then 1 again. They can also be contacted via LiveChat and by Email.

    I hope this has helped but please do contact us again if there is anything else we can help you with. You can either reply to this message, email us, or contact us on the Macmillan Support Line directly. We are available on webchat or via phone from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. To call us, our number is 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 3.

    Kind regards

    Rachel, 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.

  • Thanks very much for this information. It's really appreciated.