Going Back to Work after Cancer

Returning to work after cancer, or while still undergoing cancer treatment, can be a daunting prospect. Cancer is a highly traumatic experience and one, which changes a person’s outlook on life. It’s important therefore to be prepared for your return to work – from a mental, an emotional and a practical point of view.

Things to consider-

  • Your Physical State– after treatment, you’ll need to think realistically about what you are physically and mentally capable of now that you’re back in a work setting. Whether this means making changes to your job role or your working schedule, making reasonable allowances for yourself is the best way to ease back into work.


  • Your Mental State- A cancer diagnosis is one of the most difficult things you will ever go through. Not just physically, but emotionally. Before starting back into work, take stock of your emotions and prepare yourself for the change. Feeling worried, fatigured and afraid are all perfectly normal emotional responses. You need to consider whether you’re ready to face these emotions head on before you dive back into work life.


  • How Treatment Side Effects Will Effect Your Job- Undergoing cancer treatment is not an easy experience and typically results in side effects. Things like fatigue, pain and a change in your apperance or attitude are things that are to be expected. What is most important is that you speak to those around you, be it your colleagues or employers, and let them know how you’re feeling, and what you need.

While You’re Off Work

It’s important to stay in touch with your employer and if possible, your colleagues, while you’re off sick from work. Maintaining regular contact will mean you won’t feel left out of the loop once you return to the workplace. Ask your employer to send you company information such as newsletters or details of changes within the business. If you feel up to it, pop into the office from time to time, to maintain regular contact with your employer and your work colleagues. Notify your employer in advance of returning, giving him or her plenty of time to allow for the necessary supports to be put in place. Agree a return-to-work plan together.

The Financial Side To Returning To Work-

Take into account your finances when returning to work. If you’re returning on a phased basis, you’ll most likely experience a drop in wages. Consider whether you’ll still be able to cover your monthly outgoings. If your mortgage, a loan or a credit agreement was being paid by an insurance company while you were off sick, then this will most likely cease once you return to your job.

Financial worry will add unwanted stress at a time when you need to concentrate on looking after yourself and recover. If you’re worried about money and how best to manage it, talk to your bank manager about what options are available.

There’s no specific organisation offering financial advice or aid for cancer patients in Ireland. However a number of bodies can provide financial assistance in certain situations whilst you are receiving cancer treatment. Check with your local social welfare office to see if you’re eligible for part time payments. Also consult your local community welfare office.

The Marie Keating Foundation provides a ‘once off’ financial assistance through it’s comfort fund to those who are receiving treatment for any kind of cancer and who find themselves in financial difficulty as a result.

Once you’ve returned to work, you should set yourself up to succeed. Make a return to work plan with your employer to best facilitate your return to the working world.

Tips for makings a return to work plan-

  • Talk openly with your employer about your concerns. They cant help you if you don’t tell them what you need.
  • Consider your duties/responsibilities and ask for changes in the workplace that need to be made. Talk to your employer about reducing stressful parts of the role such as deadlines or achieving targets.
  • Agree a phased return-to-work such as working shorter/alternate days and building up your working hours.
  • Talk to your GP or healthcare professional about a graduated return to work and how to manage this.
  • Consider asking for refresher training to increase your confidence and to keep up to-date with changes

Once you’ve returned to work-

  • Be Open– Agree with your employer what you want your work team and colleagues to be told about your cancer journey
  • Be Honest– Schedule regular meetings with your employer for feedback on your work and to discuss any challenges
  • Be a Teammate -Consider working with a ‘buddy’ for additional support
  • Be Realistic– Give yourself regular breaks. You will most likely feel tired at first but remember that your energy will increase over time
  • Be Patient– It may be some time before you can work full hours and meet the demands of the role
  • Be Proud– Returning to work after cancer, or while still undergoing treatment, is an achievement in itself. Don’t expect too much too soon

Reasonable Changes:

Once you’ve returned to work, there are certain things your employer is required to do make your return back to work as seamless as possible. Under Employer Equality Acts of 1998-2011, employers are required to take ‘reasonable steps’ to accommodate employees with an illness or a disability and this includes those who have, or who have had, cancer. What is constituted as reasonable is dependent on your job but things like taking time off for doctors appointments, allowing more breakroom breaks and food breaks, and flexible working hours shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you are having difficulties with an employer in regards your back to work plan, grievances or complaints can be made to the Workplace Relations Commission.


Returning to work after cancer can be nerve-wracking enough, without the added pressures of dealing with work stress. Why not try things like meditation, going for gentle walks, or visualisation exercises to destress during a particularly tough day.

An Employers Guide To Back To Work-

As an employer, you only want the best for your employees inside and outside of work. Here are some tips on how to make your employees journey back to work after cancer just a little bit easier.

  • Reassure the employee about their job security- undergoing or finishing treatment can be a very stressful time. By reassuring your employee that their job is safe, you are lifting one worry off their shoulders.
  • Maintain regular contact – As an employer, you are required to keep your employee in the loop when it comes to policy changes within the company. This also allows the person returning to work feel like they are still apart of the work place news, and haven’t fallen too far behind.
  • Schedule regular meetings to monitor progress– for the person returning, and yourself, its best for everyone involved to know where you are in term of progress, and how you’re both feeling.
  • Allow them time to attend GP or hospital appointments- Some of those returning to work may not be finished their course of treatment. Understand that this is not time off for them, it is a vital step on their road to recovery and shouldn’t be see as anything more than what it is.

For more information on what you as an employer can do to aid your employees back to work journey
and other helpful resources, click here to download a copy of our Back To Work Booklet free.