Should You Go Back To Work After a Cancer Diagnosis?

Leah is a Stage IV Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor, as well as a cancer coach. In this guest blog post, she shares her tips on how to handle going back to work during and after cancer treatment.

You are a conqueror. Seriously! The fact that you are even tinkering with the idea going back to work during or after cancer is a huge accomplishment. Some of us are excited, while some of us may find the prospect of going to work a source of stress. There are so many questions that come up with this subject; most of them are more or less offshoots of the following:

  • Am I ready?
  • Is this job the right fit for me now?
  • How will the others in the workplace perceive me?
  • How will I be treated?
  • Do I even want to go back to the job I was in before the diagnosis?
  • Should I find a new job and start fresh?

All of these questions are valid. Cancer is life-altering. For all of these questions, a gentle approach to yourself and all that you are along with staying rooted in the present- that is, focusing on now, this moment- not only opens us up to experience life, but also is the antidote to the hamster wheel of getting caught up in the overwhelm of going back to work.

As a Stage IV cancer conqueror, mother of two little ones, and the “breadwinner”, I went back to work full-time within a month of my last chemo infusion. I struggled tremendously with anxiety surrounding the thought of working after taking time off for treatment, and some days, still do.

Many cancer conquerors struggle with the decision of going back to the same job or to start a new one. Let’s be real, no one wants the label of “the cancer person.” Familiarity with the culture and co-workers of the same job and also, having your capabilities known can be much less stressful than starting a new position. However, there is something refreshing about starting new and not letting anyone know about the history of cancer unless you allow that part of your story to be shared.

In my situation, ultimately, I did decide to go back to the same job since the stress and pressure of “proving myself” at the start of a new job was not worth giving up all of the inner peace that I found during my cancer healing program. I also think that because my co-workers and boss knew I would have periodic scans and follow up appointments, they were much more accommodating than a new team might be if they did not know about my history.

Overall, on a moment-by-moment basis, I choose to be calm and at peace with my decision. I have learned a new level of strength that we, as cancer conquerors possess, and because of this, what people think or say really doesn't matter anymore.

Below I share four simple steps you can take to ease the transition from “cancer world” to going back to work.

1. Take stock of the situation you are in and how you feel. Then, take a deep breath. Know that wherever you are is OK. It is all a part of being alive.

2. Own and honor your experience. You are here. The more comfortable you are with yourself and honoring of the experiences that you’ve gone through, the more comfortable others will be with you. Others will feel at ease because you are at ease. Your presence is your power.

3. Get clear on your assets. I’m not talking just about education or job experience, but about inherent qualities. Operating from a space of knowing who you are gives you more power than what things you possess or how many hours you’ve worked in the past. Who you are matters.

4. Make a list of words that describe how you want to feel and take healing action steps toward those feelings. Feeling foggy or fatigued is common, with or without work, during or after cancer. Choose to focus on what would make you feel restored. Maybe it is not full force back to work 50+ hours a week, but easing into it part-time. Maybe, it is doing woodwork on the side because you enjoy it and are good at it. The small actions toward feeling how you want to feel add up to more good feelings in your life.

If you’re in a situation that isn’t what you want, use what you’re going through to find out more about yourself and the meaning of your experience. Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you. As the poet Rumi says, “live life as though everything is rigged in your favor.”

Are you going back to work? Easing into it? Share your thoughts and questions here. Let’s help every reader here know that they are not alone.