When to go back

Returning to work if you’ve had to take time off for cancer treatment can feel like a big step forward. But it’s important not to rush it – and not to expect too much of yourself, too soon. Where reasonable, your employer has a duty to make changes to help you do your job during and after treatment (as long as you’ve told them about your diagnosis). So when you feel ready, talk to your boss, your doctors or your clinical nurse specialist about what’s possible, and ease yourself back in gently.

Telling your boss

Legally, you don’t have to tell your employer if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. But if you don’t tell them, they don’t have any obligation to make reasonable adjustments to help you.

Reasonable adjustments can include things like giving you time off to go to hospital or doctor’s appointments, giving you extra breaks and letting you return to work gradually. These are all covered under the Equality Act, which classifies everyone with cancer as disabled (even though you might not think of yourself as disabled). The Disability Discrimination Act covers people in Northern Ireland.

Once you’ve told your employer about your diagnosis, it’s also illegal for them to discriminate against you. So think carefully if you’re not planning on letting them know.

Tips for going back

You might find you get tired more easily at first or sometimes struggle to concentrate. Try not to worry – that’s totally normal. It can help to:

  • Go back part time. You could talk to your boss about working fewer days or shorter shifts.
  • Take your breaks. Make sure you don’t miss them – and relax when you have them.
  • Adjust your routine. Ask if you can arrange your day around the times you feel at your best.
  • Be honest if you’re struggling. Your boss might be obliged to make reasonable adjustments to help you succeed.
  • Go easy on yourself. It takes time to recover from cancer and cancer treatment, so listen to your body and don’t stress if you can’t do everything you used to straightaway.

The people you work with will probably be curious about your treatment and how you’re feeling, so it’s worth thinking about how much you want to let them know. You might want to talk to everyone together, or you could speak to a few people and ask them to let others know.

Looking for work

Searching for a new job is tricky at the best of times. After you’ve had cancer it can seem even trickier. But if you’re qualified and physically able to work, there’s no reason that having had cancer should stop you landing the job you want.

In fact, there are very few reasons that an employer can question your health in an interview. It’s OK for employers to ask about your health to check if you’re able to complete a task that’s fundamental to the role, or to make sure the recruitment process isn’t discriminating against anyone, or to help them take ‘positive action’ (which might mean, for instance, improving their recruitment of people with disabilities).

But it’s up to you how much you tell any potential employer. Try and resist any temptation to be dishonest, though – false answers have a habit of coming back to haunt you in the future.

And remember that, while you might not think of yourself as disabled, the Equality Act and the Discrimination Act consider everyone with cancer to be disabled. So if you’re asked if you’re disabled, you should say yes, even if it doesn’t feel quite right.

Look out for the ‘positive about disabled people’ symbol on job ads. If you meet the basic conditions for the job, you’ll definitely be asked in for an interview.

My Plus Students is an organisation that offers specialist careers advice to students who have a disability or long-term health condition (including cancer).  Youy can register with them for jobhunting tips, legal advice and information about companies who are committed to employing people with disabilities.

Changing career

A lot of people decide to try something different after going through cancer treatment. It can change your perspective and make you feel like the path you were on might not have been the path for you. If you’re feeling like that, make sure you take time to think about your options.

This could be the start of something brilliant, but there’s no rush. Take time to think about what you really want to do. Chat to your friends and family. And then start shaping your future – exactly how you want it to be.