working during treatment for cancer

Sorry for the long post…


I just wanted to make a post about working during cancer treatment.  This is in no way meant to be a criticism of anyone who is off sick or has chosen to give up their job totally.  Everyone is different and is in a different situation.  You have to do what is right for you.


However I do want to challenge the assumption that as soon as you have been diagnosed with BC you need to be signed off sick and can’t work then for the next 6-12 months.  My family doctor (who is wonderful and has been my doctor for the last 17 years) has already offered to sign me off twice, the first time when she got my referral letter from the breast clinic and hadn’t even seen me, and again when I went in after cycle 2 to get some meds for SE, but was broadly doing ok.  My boss also assumed when I told him of my diagnosis that I would not be working till my treatment was over (although he has been supportive and accommodating since I assured him I wanted to work whilst I could which has made my choice much more viable).


For me I am having chemo first, so I don’t yet have the impact of surgery and chemo at the same time.  I will take a chunk of time off when I do have my surgery, but for now I am working as I can through my chemo. 3/4 EC done, and I am having a couple of days off after each treatment (plus the weekend as my treatment is a Friday) and then gradually easing myself back into work.   I do just a few hours from home each day at the end of week 1, then go into work most days in week 2 and 3 (and just stay away from anyone that is visibly unwell).   My company has taken the (helpful for me) view that it is better to have me for reduced hours than not have me at all, and they leave it up to me to decide what I can do,  so I do shorter days so I can come home and have a rest and a walk and not overdo things.  How long I work depends how I am feeling, but I usually manage around 5-6 hours most days.


I swap to Tax after the next EC, and realise that may hit me differently and harder.  If it does I will reassess what I am doing, and if I feel too bad then I won’t work, but if I can I will work even if it’s only 1 week in 3. 


I know many things can make it so you can’t or don’t want to work during treatment including:


  • Bad side effects – physical or emotional
  • Inappropriate jobs (eg heavy lifting, working with sick people or lots of kids (who doesn’t send their child to school mildly ill at some point!))
  • Long or difficult journeys
  • Unsympathetic boss, or inconsiderate colleagues.
  • Job that doesn’t really allow for acceptable accommodations to your cancer.
  • Work you hate that leaves you feeling worse when you go there….


However for many people work is a positive part of their lives. They like their work or they like their colleagues or if they are lucky both!  I am fortunate in that unlike some people I don’t have to work (right now) for financial reasons, but I am choosing to keep this part of my life going as much as possible.   Sometimes being at work helps you keep a bit of “normal” in the awful situation in which we find ourselves. It can be a welcome distraction.  I can focus on an interesting problem and for a little while forget that my life has been turned upside down and my outcome is uncertain.


What I am really saying is, do what you think is right for you – don’t just accept the view that “you have BC so you can’t possibly work”.  But if you can’t work or don’t want to, then don’t.  It’s your choice and we have so few choices right now, make the ones you can whichever way you make it.

I just wanted to make a post about working during cancer treatment.  This is in no way meant to be a criticism of anyone who is off sick or has chosen to give up their job totally.  Everyone is different and is in a different situation.  You have to do what is right for you.


I was diagnosed with primary beast cancer in Feb 13 when I was on a weeks annual leave from work. I took the decision to go off sick immediately and was encouraged to do this by my manager. I am fortunate in that I love my work and have a fantastic “work family” who supported me throughout all treatment. However, I am a Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist so being given a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan made it almost impossible for me to do my job effectively.

I returned to work in Jan this year after 11 months off and I have to say It is wonderful to be back. I now feel more “normal” and have regained most of the independence that I lost when I was off. I agree, to work or not is a very personal decision but for me it was a no brainer!

Hi it was great to read your comment on working through treatment as I have found very little on this area and the most response I get is not to work.  I was diagnosed on 6 February have had masecetomy then another surgery for lymph node removal and due to start chemo either next week or the week after.  I popped in to work for the first time last week on a visit and it was so uplifting I ended up 3 hours there and was itching to get involved.  I am hoping that I can do a similar work pattern to yourself once I have had my first chemo session - I am due to have 6 sessions then followed by 3 weeks radiotherapy.  I agree that if you have a job that you enjoy and is understanding it is a helpful distraction and does maintain some kind of normality and I am just so bored and down being stuck at home waiting for the next hospital appointment. Any tips on how you coped when you went back and have you or  did you lose your hair and how did you manage with that stage within the workplace.  Many thanks

I’m glad I’m not the only one to carry on working! My employers have been fantastic, and like you i had a few days maybe a week off after each chemo and then lietrally jusy worked the hours i could manage. They paid me in full, threw an office party after a good ultrasound, I am very very thankful.
I Was advised 4-6 weeks off after surgery but took three, as was starting to feel like i was taming advantage a bit with all the time off. Now Tamoxifen and radiotherapy have hit me quite hard, not Ill but exhausted! Hospital are happy to sign me off but feel bad having more time off when I worked through the hardest bit!! Currently having rad in mornings and working afternoons but may have to reconsider as virtually falling asleep.

Totally agree with this thread!  I would have felt really dishonest taking all that time off work when actually, I didn’t feel particularly ill.  I took three weeks off for post-op recovery and did take one day off during chemo when I felt very tired, but other than that have been fine.  My work colleagues don’t even know that I have been having treatment as I bought a very good wig.  I think working throughout meant that I could treat everything as more of a normal illness and not something especially serious, which I think eliminates a lot of worry and stress and so probably helps further with recovery.



Like Kath64 I also feel the need to comment and not offend, it is wonderful that some ladies are able to enjoy a near normal life and routine while undergoing treatment, but some may have employers who are not so accomodating and also we are not all the same, we have different side effects and we recover in different ways.


 After reading these posts I actually started to question why I hadn’t been able to remain as active as before, but over the last 9 months I have had a mastectomy, 6 rounds of chemo during which I was hospitalised twice with infections and 15 sessions of radiotherapy, I certainly couldn’t have worked during this time, the treatment together with the emotional stress completely knocked me for six.


So all you ladies out there who may be struggling please don’t feel guilty or think you are letting anyone down, concentrate on you and do whatever you need to get through and get well.


Hope I haven’t offended anyone but there are always two sides


Best Wishes

Mary x



I didn’t do very much work for about 6 no ths, only the occasional afternoon just light cleaning or sitting in sensory room.I worked through 4 chemos although I was only doing a couple of hour sessions and I felt very groggy and dizzy after each chemo.As I also had kidney cancer I stopped work when my biopsy was due as I knew I’d have to rest for a while after that and doing cleaning is strenuous and risking infections in a dirty environment.Although I feel I recovered well after my two ops,there’s no way I could have worked…I was breathless and so sore, some days only able to walk for 5 mins or so without stopping.Then straight into a month of radiotherapy with an 80 mile round trip every day.I only now feel able to work and can manage a 4 hour day.A month ago I was needing a lie down after a trip round Sainsburys!The anastroxole gives me creaky joints and I still get niggles from my kidney op.

Hi - We each handle it in our own way- I am having 8 cycles chemo followed by lumpectomy & radiotherapy - I cant afford not to work through some of this as only get 12 weeks sick pay .My boss has been great &I have been able to do some work at home for the first week after chemo & then back in the office til next one. No right or wrong just what is right for the individual !

Hi - I was diagnosed with early BC in April this year and started a new job at the same time . I have been through 2 operations - lumpectomy and ANC and chose to work in between my operations . My employer has been supportive with me throughout as well as guidance from their occupational health dept who put me on a phased returned to work in between operations

The only problem I am having is with me starting a new job I find it very hard to concentrate and hesitant to learn things / take on clients or arrange meetings with them knowing that I had cancer and I be spending a chunk of the next 6 months off work due to surgery / treatment .

I have probably done my best to avoid anything challenging or getting too heavily involved in certain tasks for this reason . My fear is having to go to client meetings then having to explain that I have been off work on sick leave .

I also feel guilty having started a new job as I feel that my work colleagues are having to carry me / deal with my allocated work load in my absence and I feel I am putting a strain on everybody concerned.
I feel I am not able to pull my weight and taking advantage as I find myself having to go through treatment.
I went back to work 2 weeks ago on phased return after my ANC and really flagging / loss of concentration/ find everything I do overwhelming … I have now received my dates for radiotherapy where I will need 4 weeks of treatment and dreading having another conversation with my boss how they are going to manage my work load for the next month , whether I am expected to work for few hours day in between or whether it’s best just to be signed off for the month . I would prefer the latter being signed off as the way I currently feel cannot concentrate and feel I am no good to anybody .
I still have a lot to learn with company policies / practices/ procedures/ computer training and I find this all overwhelming
What concerns me the most is when my treatment is finished mid December , how I am going to feel going back to work 5 days a week , 7 hours daily , 60 mike commute daily and being stressed over my job and workload as I will have lots of catching up to do and feel I will struggle doing tasks/ learning computer systems and my capability of doing the job
I am afraid I will fail and may be asked to leave employment.
I am already in 2 minds and doubt my capabilities continuing with my job , pressures, stresses and feel that perhaps I should resign now before I start my radiotherapy which is due commence in 2 weeks time .
The only thing is if I do resign . I will struggle financially and will not be able to recommence employment unless I am physically and mentally well enough which won’t be until next year …

Has anybody been through this ? How have you dealt with negative feelings and know what it right for me ?

I don’t want to let my employer down by dragging this out hoping that all will work out well after finishing treatment but then again I don’t want them thinking I was failure because I couldn’t stick it out
I want to be fair to them and resign gracefully if it’s the best thing to do

DPD I did the same thing 3 years ago. Like you I couldn’t afford not to. Especially after 8 wks off after op because of complications. I feel that for me it had great benefits too with energy after treatment. I was by no means where I was before treatment but I wasn’t as bad as most of the people I spoke to who had gone through the same and not worked. Now 3 years later I am back to the same fitness level, unfortunately not as light, but they say the fitness is the better of the two don’t they?!?!
Working on the weight still. It is as you say all a matter of what someone feels they can do but I do think it helped me so thought I’d see what others thought.