Returning to work after a cancer diagnosis

Many who return to work after experiencing cancer are shocked and overwhelmed at how unprepared they feel. By taking time to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself, you can smooth the transition back to the job. Here’s a quick overview of things to consider when you re-enter the workforce.

  • You are not the same. Yes, you’re the person you were before but you have experienced a life-changing event. Be prepared for fatigue, difficulty concentrating, producing or retaining information. Pace yourself.


  • The workplace is constantly changing. While you were away, work did not stand still. In fact adjustments were made to keep it moving. Don’t be offended by the change. Take advantage of help and support where available and offered.


  • Empathy is not the same as experience. Managers who have not experienced cancer may understand, but their understanding has limitations. If they expect you to perform at levels that are unrealistic or set goals that are not attainable, take the opportunity to communicate and educate.


  • Flexibility isn’t a sign of weakness. It may be necessary to modify your work environment or day. Consider starting your workweek on a Thursday or Friday and ease back into your routine. Consider working half days for a week and adding an hour or two each day.


  • Establish comfortable boundaries. Be specific on how much you want to share about your experience. Even if you don’t mind sharing, you can spend hours checking in with people and giving updates. Set the tone for what you need and expect, and others will follow.


  • Don’t forget the practical. Be familiar with the side effects of medications you are taking and how to deal with them, as well as things such as the length of time you can stand and other restrictions. Talk to your employer about workplace accommodations.


  • Remember that expectations are just that – expected, not absolute. Celebrate what you can do, set goals for those things that challenge you and ask for help when you need to.

If returning to work has you feeling anxious or stressed, consider talking to one of our Novant Health Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center counselors. Call 704-384-5223 to schedule an appointment.