Return to Work Woes


Earlier this week, I was talking with a woman named Janet who recently returned to work after a yearlong battle with breast cancer. In the interest of privacy, Janet is a pseudonym. But the double mastectomy, sickening chemotherapy, and severe radiation burns she endured are still very real.

Feeling far from healed or healthy, her failing finances demanded that she return to work. Janet who was once a senior manager at a prominent tech company is now living paycheck-to-paycheck picking up contract work for much lower pay. As devastating as the looming financial ruin was, the less than supportive work environment she encountered was equally disappointing.

At a team meeting, the unmistakable sounds and smells of her gastric upset interrupted the agenda. Sheepishly she apologized to her co-workers, explaining that she still experiences these unpleasant episodes since completing her cancer treatments the year before. In response, one co-worker blurted, “Come on! Are you still pulling the cancer card? It’s been a year! Get over it!”

Things like Janet’s gastric upset, fatigue, poor memory, numbness in hand and feet, skin adhesions that limit range of motion, weakening bones, the inability to lift or carry a load more than five pounds, and various menopausal symptoms are all common side effects. So assuming that cancer survivors will instantly return to 100% productivity after treatment can be frustrating for both the survivor and those around them.

Returning to full-time hours or taking on extra assignments can be near impossible for survivors to do. It can cause stress and frustration when those unrealistic expectations can’t be met. Also, it can make it harder to negotiate accommodations at work, even though such adjustments are your legal rights.

However difficult your situation, it is about them–not you! So by focusing on your core needs, you can find ways to fulfill your work responsibilities in a way that is more in line with your current abilities.

For example, before being diagnosed with breast cancer, Anita, a field nurse for the county health department, traveled near three hours each day from her home to work assignments in the far opposite end of the county. In returning to work after cancer treatment, the long daily commute was too demanding. However, as a single mom and sole breadwinner, she had no choice but to work. Anita was able to negotiate a transfer to work assignments near her home, saving nearly three hours each day. You can image this was much better for her health and made a big improvement in her family life as well.

Are there options you can try?