Balancing Cancer and Career


Battling cancer can be a full-time job in itself, yet many people with the disease choose to stay employed after their diagnosis.


Though full- or part-time employment often takes a backseat to treatment, research published online in the American Cancer Society’s journal CANCER revealed that almost 45 percent of people with metastatic cancer remained employed after being diagnosed with the disease.

Choosing to work or not work during treatment is a personal decision for those battling a potentially life-threatening disease. However, the researchers learned that the severity of cancer-related symptoms—not the type of cancer or the treatment—was the determining factor as to whether or not cancer patients were able to continue working.

All In a Day’s Work

Everyone has different reasons why they may or may not choose to continue working, but some of the most common are:

Financial. Regular day-to-day bills don’t stop when cancer is diagnosed. Add in the extra costs of cancer treatment, and you can see why some people feel like they can't stop working all together while they undergo treatment.

Normalcy. Cancer can make people feel isolated. Sometimes going back to work is the best way to feel like everything is normal.

Support. Full-time employees may spend more waking hours with colleagues than they do with family members. Surrounding yourself with people who know you well can be comforting.

Enjoyment. Believe it or not, some people really love their jobs and simply want to get back to work if they can.

Your ability to continue working as normal can depend on factors which include your treatment schedule, your symptoms and the type of work that you do. If you want to keep working, speak with your physician to find out if work is a possibility for you. With your physician’s approval, you can begin preparing your return by doing the following:

  1. Communicating with your employer. You may need to work different hours or get a desk closer to the bathroom to accommodate any side effects. While most employers will probably understand, there are some federal laws in place to ensure you’re protected.
  2. Building an appropriate schedule. Plan any chemotherapy treatments late in the day or just before the weekend to allow for enough recovery time. If possible, you can also try to schedule a few days to work from home to help with drowsiness or fatigue.
  3. Sharing information with coworkers. This is completely up to you, but sometimes letting others know about your situation can make working much easier. If you don’t want everyone to know, try informing just a few trusted colleagues who can help you when you need it.
  4. Don’t overexert yourself. Fighting cancer is exhausting. While you may have been able to work long hours in the office before, it may not be wise to continue doing so right now.

Understanding Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a single medication or a combination of medications that treat cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy isn’t able to differentiate between the cancerous cells that grow rapidly and other quickly growing cells, which is why people undergoing chemotherapy often experience side effects such as nausea, mouth sores, hair loss and digestive issues.

While most people are familiar with chemotherapy treatment that is given through the veins, chemotherapy can also be administered into an artery or administered within the peritoneal cavity that holds the intestines, liver, ovaries and stomach. Chemotherapy can sometimes be available in a pill or liquid that you take orally or as a topical skin cream.

To learn more about the types of cancers Summit Healthcare Cancer Center treats, visit us at