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Whether or not to continue employment while undergoing treatment for cancer is a difficult question. The answer needs to include consideration of your unique situation and needs. You may feel strongly about continuing to work during treatment, or you may need to take time off in order to allow for healing.
Either decision may be workable, but it’s important to think about your particular situation, and to know some of the basic protections offered to people undergoing treatment for cancer.
What’s the Right Choice for You?
The decision of whether to work during cancer treatment is a very personal one, so the variables that contribute to it are unique to an individual’s situation. If work provides a sense of meaning or relief for you, then continuing to do so may be wise.
On the other hand, if you find your workload or workplace to be emotionally or physically taxing, you may want to take some time off, reduce your work hours or simply stop working. Before making any decision, it’s important to talk to your medical provider about your treatment plan, as well as what the side effects might be. It’s also a good idea to let them know what type of work you do, so he/she can help you decide whether you will be able to continue working.
Then, it’s time to do a little research about your workplace benefits.
Do you have short-term disability benefits? What would it take to access those benefits, and how will they help you? Does your workplace offer a leave bank? Are you eligible to take leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act? Or does it make more sense for you to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income? (For more information about these programs, visit the Social Security Administration's website.)
If your company has an established Employee Assistance Program, you may want to speak to a specialist in that department. Some questions can be answered by talking to your human resources officer or supervisor. You may also want to meet with an oncology social worker to help you sort through some of the possibilities and then determine what would be a good choice for you.
There Are Laws on Your Side
Many patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer are protected by federal laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Family and Medical Leave Act, and The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) are just a few of the laws that offer protection for cancer patients and those experiencing chronic, life-limiting illness. Become familiar with these laws, and the protections they provide.
For more information about the federal laws that can help cancer patients and their families, two resources that offer additional information are the Cancer Legal Resource Center and Cancer and Careers.
An Oncology Social Worker Can Help
Again, the decision to continue or discontinue your work as a result of a cancer diagnosis is a personal one. Regardless of the circumstances, however, consider contacting an experienced oncology social worker. An oncology social worker can be your ally in navigating the emotional and practical complexities that surround this issue.
Within the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, we have social workers, doctors and specialists who can provide you with support, information and resources. Yes, a cancer diagnosis is disruptive, difficult and confusing – but you don't need to go through it alone. As a team, we work to make your treatment and its impact on your personal life as functional as possible.