Newly Diagnosed with Cancer: What About Work?

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Work and Cancer

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When newly diagnosed with cancer there are a lot of things to consider, including whether or not you can continue workingIf you've recently learned you have cancer, you may be wondering what to do about work and have to make decisions quickly. Deciding to work can be difficult or a "no-brainer." There are many things to consider when you make your decision or if the decision is made for you.




You should consider (with the help of your physician) whether you are physically and mentally capable of working. Your health before cancer is going to impact the decision-making process. If you have multiple medical problems in addition to cancer, your ability to work will be different than the individual whose overall health is good.


Cancer causes damage to your body and mind. The type of cancer you have (before treatment) is going to make a difference. The severity of the disease and its impact will need to be taken into account. A few basic questions to ask yourself include:

  • Are you weak before treatment begins?
  • Are you overcome with anxiety?
  • Are you 65 or are you 30? (Age can make a difference.)

Type of Work and Employer


The way you make your living is a key factor. Someone doing hard physical labor will have a different choice than someone who is able to work from home. Consider the following:

  • Are you operating big machinery? Do you have to climb stairs?
  • Is on-going travel part of your job?
  • Do you work for a big corporation or a small family business?
  • What policies are in place in regards to illness? Who calls the shots?
  • What is your relationship like with your boss?
  • How flexible is the work place?
  • Are employees valued in your company or not?



The type of treatment, duration of treatment, intensity of treatment and side effects are definitely going to come into play. Consider the following:

  • Will you be having surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or all three?
  • Will your chemotherapy be five days in a row or will it be once every three weeks?
  • Is the length of treatment going to be six weeks versus a year?
  • Can your side effects be managed or will you have trouble getting out of bed?
  • Will you have to stay close to a bathroom?
  • Is it safe to go out in public?

Meaning of Work


What does your work mean to you? Consider the following:

  • Is it a place to get a pay check or do you love it?
  • Do you find a feeling of normalcy by going about your daily routine, including work?
  • Do you have a sense of responsibility toward who you work for or work with?
  • Do you wish to complete a project?
  • Does your work place cause positive or negative feelings?
  • If you have a terminal cancer, how would you like to spend your time?
  • Has work lost meaning for you?

Money and Benefits


Having a diagnosis of cancer comes with a costly price tag regardless of whether you have insurance or not. Some cancer patients have said that experiencing financial stress was worse than their cancer diagnosis. Consider the following:

  • Who's going to pay the bills?
  • Do you live paycheck to paycheck? Do you have savings?
  • Will family and friends help you out with money?
  • Does the loss of even a day's worth of work mean you can't make your car payment?
  • If they take away your car, how will you get to your treatments?
  • Does your company provide health insurance, vacation, sick time? Are you eligible for COBRA or FMLA?
  • Are you eligible for social security disability or Medicaid?
  • Will you lose your house or possibly not be able to send your children to college?
  • Can you pay for your medical supplies?
  • WILL You EAT?

Your social worker can help you understand what you want or need to do. It's good to have an objective and empathetic person on your side who can help you cope with panic, confusion and indecision. A social worker can help you determine whether you may be eligible for government programs such as disability. They are knowledgeable about the American Disabilities act, FMLA, or COBRA. Social workers can explore resources with you and what questions to ask about benefits.


Clinical social work services are available to people with cancer diagnoses, their family members, and other support persons. Services include support with the emotional issues of cancer, impact on family, adjustment to the illness and treatment, and assistance with financial, disability, access and vocational issues. Learn more about Clinical Social Work Services.