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Remember This When You’re Returning to Work After Cancer Treatment



Are you considering returning to work after cancer treatment?


If so, that means you probably did that big scary thing you weren’t sure you’d get through.


You finished your last round of chemo, and can finally have a breather after what felt like endless rounds of pills and needles.


You get to spend some much needed time away from the hospital.


The thought of this newfound freedom has you feeling elated—but you’d be lying if you said you weren’t worried at all.


The doctor gave you the okay to return back to some of your old routines.


But what the doctor didn’t tell you, is there are parts of your old life that just won’t fit perfectly anymore. What once seemed routine and automatic—is no longer something that works for you.


So you begin your journey of rearranging parts of your old life to fit in with your post cancer world.



Oftentimes, when we hear about a cancer diagnosis, the first thing that comes to mind is the taxing process of undergoing chemo and treatment.


What people often overlook is the in-betweens. Those moments in between chemo, radiation, or even when you’re in remission—where you’re doing your best to go back to who you used to be.


Your everyday routines may look different, as you figure out how to navigate your old world.


You find yourself having to fit the new you, into your old life. Sometimes you even feel like a completely different person than you were before.


This can be an extremely emotionally and physically draining process.


Whether you’re a cancer survivor returning to work, or you know someone who is, navigating this process is tough and requires support.


Returning to work after cancer treatment


Returning to work after cancer treatment can be an overwhelming process.


If you’re returning to your old job, you’re doing your best to cope with all the changes that have taken place since you left—and figuring out what your role looks like now.


Or maybe your old job just doesn’t fit into your life anymore or isn’t available—so you’re starting somewhere brand new.


Whichever route you take, the path to adjusting back to working is not a linear process.


As you or a loved one navigates returning to work after cancer treatment, here are some important things to remember:


1. Take it one day at a time


It’s extremely important to not be so hard on yourself when you’re returning to work post-treatment.


Forming a new routine will take time, and you have to give yourself space to discover what works for you. The most important thing during this time is to listen to your body.


If you’re feeling under the weather, don’t be afraid to communicate that to your team. The impacts of a common cold on your body are a lot different from what they may have been prior to your cancer diagnosis.


So if your body tells you that you need rest—please be sure to let your body rest!


2. Deciding whether to tell your coworkers you have cancer


If you’re returning to your old job, your coworkers may know you have cancer. But, this may not always be the case—especially if you’re starting a new job.


Whether or not you tell your coworkers you have cancer is a very personal decision. It is ultimately up to you to decide how and if you want to do this.


From the Brilliantly community, we’ve heard that telling coworkers you trust about your cancer, can help you potentially feel more at ease in the workplace. It’s important to accept that your experience with cancer plays an important role in how you show up in the world.


Sometimes hiding it can make it feel like you’re hiding part of your identity. Cancer doesn’t define everything about your identity, but it’s important to realize it is a big part of who you are.


When you open up to your colleagues, it allows them to meet you where you are and overtime can actually help strengthen your relationships.


Vulnerability is a powerful tool for building any kind of strong relationship—even in the workplace.


I know it’s scary but if you’re in a safe and trustworthy environment—sharing your cancer story with your coworkers can actually help heal parts of yourself.


As Maya Angelou eloquently states:


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”


When your coworkers don’t know your story, it can sometimes feel like you're hiding an important piece of who you are.


Here at Brilliantly, we want you to feel empowered to share your story with those you trust.


3. Educate yourself on reasonable accommodations at your workplace


Employers are federally required to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, if it would not be an undue hardship to do so.


If you think you may benefit from any reasonable accommodations at work, be sure to educate yourself on what you can ask your employer for.


It’s a smart idea to research these accommodations ahead of time. This way you can plan out any accommodations you may need to ask for.


Some reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Flexible work arrangements or modified schedules that give you flexibility (e.g. work from home options)

  • Reassigning you to a new role, because you may no longer be able to perform duties associated with your previous role

  • Making your workspace readily accessible for any of your disabilities

Be sure to reach out to human resources at your company, if you have any questions on reasonable accommodations. You can also reach out to the Job Accommodation Network for any of your reasonable accommodation related questions.


4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it


More often than not, your boss and colleagues are here to help you in your transition back to work. Or maybe you just need a friend or a professional therapist to be an ear to vent to. Do not hesitate asking for this support.


Returning to work after cancer treatment is a huge deal. And while it is a major accomplishment, it also comes with its fair share of overwhelm, stress, and emotions.


Whether you need things at work to be more flexible in certain areas, or if you just need to let out some overwhelming emotions—people in your life are here to help.


At the end of the day, you’ll be surprised at how much people want you to succeed and meet you where you are.


I know asking for help can be scary and overwhelming, but at the end of the day we’re all here to support one another.


Please don't feel that by asking for help you’re asking for sympathy. When you ask for help, you’re asking people to meet you where you are—and I assure you people will be more than willing to assist.


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