For Any Cancer Diagnosis
Q. I have a full-time job. How will side effects from my chemotherapy affect my ability to work?
Many people are able to continue working during their treatments and being proactive can make all the difference. The keys are good communication with your health care team, knowing up front what the expected side effects will be, and developing a plan with your doctor.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about your job and its activities. Make sure that your doctor understands the importance of your job as a source of health insurance, income and purpose, and that your employment be considered in any medical decisions. Get details about your treatment side effects and develop a plan that addresses each one. Explore with your doctor options that will make it easier to continue working, such as scheduling treatments on Friday afternoons to minimize their impact on work.
Once you have spoken with your doctor and know better what to expect, you may want to talk to your supervisor or human resource department about your need for flex time or time off. If you work full time, learn about workplace legal protections and accommodations. Know the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. You may also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. All are helpful resources for understanding your legal rights in the workplace when you have cancer.
CancerCare offers these additional resources:
Q. A number of employees in our workplace have cancer. As the personnel director, I would like to organize educational programs to help all our employees learn more about cancer. How do I do this?
Many human resource departments are proactive in helping their employees cope with cancer in the workplace. They demonstrate compassion by developing educational programs to help employees with their concerns.
Companies address cancer in the workplace with education and information. Some employers offer annual company-wide health fairs. Smaller companies may not be able to offer a large health fair for their employees, but they might be able to work with their benefits provider to host smaller events and workshops during the year.
Another way to provide low-cost employee education is to partner with community outreach programs, cancer centers, and nonprofit organizations that can provide educational materials and seminars.
Examples of workshop topics include:
- Cancer treatment updates
- Early detection of cancer
- Communicating with your doctor
- Coping with a co-worker’s cancer
- Review of employer sponsored health plans
CancerCare offers many resources that can assist human resource departments to develop educational programs and services for their employees, including:
- A comprehensive overview of all the services that we offer.
- Fact sheets on prevention and early detection to distribute at workplace seminars and health fairs.
- A staff of professional oncology social workers who are available to assist you and your employees with cancer-related concerns.
Contact us at 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) to learn more about how we can help.
Q. My co-worker told me she has cancer. I don't know what to talk about or what to say to her.
Many people are not sure what to say when someone they know is diagnosed with cancer. Our work relationships are an integral part of the fabric of our lives. Many of us spend more waking hours at work than at home. Many families are scattered geographically and so for some people, the workplace is “family.” The extent of your involvement depends upon the nature of your relationship prior to the cancer diagnosis. Here are some suggestions that may help you:
- Ask your co-worker if she wants to talk about her cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Be willing to listen
- Ask how you can help and be specific with ideas
- Tell her that you care about how she is feeling
- Keep your conversations confidential
- Try to maintain a normal office relationship with her
- Send a card or pay a visit if she is in the hospital
- Offer to help her find resources
We also have a number of publications that offer additional tips:
- Caregiving for Your Loved One With Cancer
- What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One
- Caring Advice for Caregivers
You may also want to speak with a CancerCare oncology social worker to discuss your concerns.
Q. I am an employer and one of my employees has just been diagnosed with cancer. I want to be helpful but am not sure what I should do.
The most important things you can do are to listen to the employee who discloses his or her cancer diagnosis and to offer workplace support. It is critical to let the employee who is living with cancer know about the ability of your workplace to make accommodations for his or her needs. The key message you as an employer can offer an employee is your willingness to work with them, if at all possible, to help them continue working as long as their doctor supports their decision to work and they are able to do the job.
The following are some tips that many employers find useful:
- Know the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act and make that information available to supervisors and employees.
- Create a workplace culture that allows flextime or other accommodations for cancer patients who can and wants to continue working.
- Educate managers to deal sensitively with employees who have cancer so that they do not make assumptions about their ability to perform job duties.
- Teach managers to maintain a dialogue with employees being treated for cancer so that adjustments in workload or work schedules can be anticipated.
- Allow employees to decide if or how they would like coworkers to be informed of their illness and honor requests for confidentiality.
- Work closely with your human resource department regarding employee benefits and resources.
You may also find CancerCare publications, covering a broad range of cancer-related topics, helpful. Our professional oncology social workers can also assist employees with cancer, their coworkers, and managers.
Q. I was just diagnosed with cancer and plan to continue working. Do I have to tell my employer that I have cancer?
Many people continue to work productively while being treated for cancer. Continuing to work can be vital to your sense of well being and is a source of income and, often, health insurance. Each workplace has its own unique culture. Whether or not to tell your employer about your cancer is both a personal and practical decision.
Many myths about cancer exist in our society, including in the workplace. For instance, employers and coworkers may assume that a person with cancer or their caregivers are not able to perform job responsibilities as well as before cancer. Sometimes, these misconceptions can lead to subtle or blatant discrimination.
It is important for you to become familiar with the laws protecting you before you decide whether or not to disclose your cancer diagnosis.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that organizations with 15 or more employees comply with ADA guidelines. These are the criteria to take advantage of ADA protection: meet the ADA definition of “disabled person,” qualify for the job and be able to perform its essential functions, and not pose a risk to your own or others' health and safety. The ADA recommends that any accommodation that you need does not cause “undue hardship” to your employer.
Flexible work hours to meet treatment schedules and doctors appointments is the most frequent workplace accommodation required by people living with cancer. If you require flextime, it is important to disclose your cancer diagnosis to your supervisor or human resources department to be protected under the ADA. If no reason is given for frequent requests of flextime, you could risk jeopardizing your job security. For more information, contact the ADA at 1-800-514-0301.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables the person with cancer and family members to take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks within one calendar year. The FMLA applies to organizations with 50 or more employees. The employee must have worked with his or her employer for at least one year, and employers must continue health benefits during the leave. Leave does not have to be taken all at once, but can be taken in blocks of time.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces the provisions of the ADA and FMLA and assists citizens who feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000.
CancerCare’s oncology social workers provide practical resources and help with your workplace concerns. Call 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Lung Cancer
Q. A friend and co-worker was just diagnosed with lung cancer and it's inoperable. As his friend and boss, how can I best help? What should we prepare for?
It’s important to bear in mind that while a cancer may be diagnosed at a stage where it is not operable, it may very well be treatable. Many lung cancer patients are diagnosed at a stage where surgery is not a viable option but where appropriate chemotherapy, targeted therapy or radiation therapy may result in better survivorship outcomes.
You may find it helpful to visit CancerCare’s website www.lungcancer.org which was created as a “first stop” for folks newly diagnosed with lung cancer in order to provide them with some basic information and the resources they may find helpful as they navigate a very new and sometimes difficult environment. You may also find that our fact sheet “What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One” offers you some guidance on how best to communicate with your friend.
You mentioned that you are also his boss. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides guidelines on how employers can provide reasonable accommodations for employees disabled with conditions such as lung cancer. You may be interested in reviewing the online publication “The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer” to learn more about how reasonable accommodation may help your colleague continue to work to the extent that he is able to.