With the end of treatment, there is often a sense of relief, accomplishment and even joy in having gotten through a difficult experience. However, it can also be a time of stress and conflicting emotions about your diagnosis, treatment and long term recovery. These emotions can sometimes be overwhelming, interfering with your day-to-day activities and your health.
Family and friends can provide much comfort and support during this time, but they might not be fully aware of all the emotional challenges that can arise after your treatment is over. They may think that you now don’t need the same level or type of support. Because of that, it is important that you talk openly with your health care team about any emotional symptoms you are experiencing as a result of your cancer. They can provide tips for coping or refer you to other sources of support.
As a post-treatment cancer survivor, you will likely need to adjust to your “new normal.” Understanding what this means for you will likely take weeks, months or even years. This process may involve:
- Reflecting on what you’ve been through
- Realizing how your body has changed since your cancer
- Recognizing what you’ve learned about yourself
- Identifying changes that you might want to make in your life
- Re-evaluating personal relationships and/or professional goals
- Discovering new ways of finding meaning and fulfillment
As part of this process, you may find it helpful to seek the support of others who understand what you’re going through. Joining a support group for post-treatment survivors can allow you to share with and learn from others who are facing similar issues—such as fear of recurrence, living with uncertainty, lingering side effects and going back to work (if you stopped working). If you are finding that you feel anxious or depressed, speak to someone to get help.
People living with and beyond cancer may have kept working during treatment, reduced their hours or stopped working altogether. You may have found co-workers to be helpful during treatment, but they may not realize you still might need help as you resume your activities. After treatment is over, you may need flexible work hours in order to go to medical appointments. In some instances, restructuring a job or reducing the number of hours you work may also be considered reasonable.
As a post-treatment survivor, it is important for you to be aware of the laws that protect you in the workplace.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Organizations with 15 or more employees must follow ADA guidelines. To qualify for ADA protection, you must:
- Meet the ADA definition of a “disabled person”: a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity
- Qualify for the job and be able to perform its essential functions
- Not pose a risk to your own or others’ health and safety
- Not cause “undue hardship” to your employer for any accommodations you might need
In order to be protected under the ADA, it is important to tell your supervisor or your human resources department about your cancer history. For more information, call 1-800-514-0301 or visit the ADA website at www.ada.gov.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA enables people dealing with a serious illness to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks within one calendar year. The FMLA applies to organizations with 50 or more employees. (The FMLA also applies to family members of people with serious illnesses.)
The employee must have worked with their employer for at least one year, and employers must continue to provide health benefits during the leave. The leave does not have to be taken all at once but can be taken in blocks of time (intermittently). To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov and search for FMLA.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the provisions of the ADA and FMLA and helps people who feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace. For more information, or if you feel you are being treated unfairly, call 1-800-669-4000 or visit www.eeoc.gov.