Returning to work after cancer treatment

Tips on returning to work and talking to colleagues after cancer treatment.

Returning to work after cancer treatment can be a positive step in your recovery. But before diving back in, consider these things to help make the transition as stress-free as possible. 

Deciding when to return

There is really no one size fits all answer to when you should return to work. Helen Rimington, a director at workplace mental health and wellbeing specialists En Masse, stresses that this decision is unique to each person.

“For some people coming back to work early is a fantastic way of regaining their confidence and getting over their anxiety, while other people may need an extended period. We should move away from coming up with an arbitrary number because cancer can be life-threatening and it can also be more like a chronic illness that has to be managed.”

For some people coming back to work early is a fantastic way of regaining their confidence and getting over their anxiety.

Woman drinking coffee and looking out the window

Create a return-to-work plan

Before returning to work it may be useful to set up time with your manager and HR representative to create a return-to-work plan. This may include a summary of duties and revised hours that you’ve negotiated and agreed upon.

Once back at work it can be useful to schedule regular catch-ups with your manager to discuss how you are settling in and coping with being back at work. This way you and your manager can raise and find solutions to any issues that might come up before they become a problem.

If your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), take this opportunity to make an appropriate contact who you can go to for advice and debriefing as you come up against challenges or need extra support.

Communicating with colleagues

It’s normal to feel a little nervous talking about your illness with colleagues, but “don’t make assumptions,” says Rimington. “Communicate your needs to people – I’d err on the side of over explaining rather than under. As a society we don’t talk much about the things we really fear. It really is ignorance that can cause people to be a little insensitive.”

As a society we don’t talk much about the things we really fear. It really is ignorance that can cause people to be a little insensitive.

“Thank people for their support and say, ‘This is what you can do to help me over the next few months.’ When people do that, I find [colleagues] are touched and want to help. But if it’s a guessing game, results can be really varied.”
 
In all the planning, negotiating and communicating that goes with a smooth return to work, it’s important to remember to keep the channels of communication open. An app like Thrivor, which lets you set up groups and assign helpful tasks, could help make this transition easier.

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