Some people want to, and some people don’t—but is it even feasible?
Every experience with metastatic breast cancer is unique. All patients handle the journey a little differently. For some, work during breast cancer treatment might offer an escape from thinking about cancer and an opportunity to do something “normal.” For others, they might find work too difficult or too stressful during the difficult treatment journey.
Whether or not you want to work during treatment for metastatic breast cancer is one thing. The other question is whether you should or you can. Again, the answer to both of these questions can vary.
What are factors to consider about work during breast cancer?
In general, yes, it’s okay to work during your cancer experience. Making this decision might be difficult, so here are some factors to consider:
- Side effects: If you are having severe treatment side effects that are difficult to control with medicines, work might be a challenge for you.
- Your immune system: Some treatments may affect your white blood cell count. This means you’d be much more susceptible to illnesses, and public places may be risky for you.
- The logistics of your job: Jobs that require a lot of travel or manual labor might be difficult when you’re dealing with cancer symptoms and/or treatment side effects.
- Accommodations at work: Some jobs offer more flexibility than others. If your workspace is able to accommodate you during your treatment, working might be easier for you. If it’s not possible to make accommodations, you might be better off taking a short- or long-term leave.
What types of accommodations could make work easier?
If you want to work during your breast cancer treatment, the next step is to consider accommodations. Your side effects, treatment schedule, and risk of infections are all reasons why you might need flexibility on the job. The right accommodations for you depend on your career and what you’re experiencing.
Some examples of accommodations to talk to your employer about include:
- Working from home, which may help prevent infections if your immune system is compromised
- Working part-time, which may help you cope with a challenging treatment schedule or fatigue
- Changing responsibilities, which may help if your job usually requires a lot of travel, meetings, or manual labor that you can’t handle during this time
- Improving accessibility, which may include relocating your office or desk to an area of the office that’s easier to get to
- Adjusting your treatment, which may include choosing a treatment that is administered less frequently or early in the morning so it doesn’t interfere with your workday
What are your legal rights?
Your cancer facility should offer a social worker. You can talk to them to learn about your rights as an employee when it comes to working during cancer treatment. The Americans with Disabilities Act offers some protection for patients who have a physical problem (including cancer) if it substantially limits their abilities. The social worker can also provide tips for how to talk to your employer, how to ask for accommodations, and more.
Paula Klein, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Health System.