5 Signs it’s Time to Become a Full-Time Cancer Fighter

by GregP_WN

Working Through Cancer Treatments

Telling someone they should stop working to focus on cancer fighting is a bit like telling them which drug they should try: What works for one person won’t work for everyone (oh, and also it’s none of your business). Still, some people have to face that transition from full-time employment to full-time cancer fighter.                                                     

Ok, but first, how do you even make that transition?

Many WhatNext members told us they had good experiences working with their companies, and received lots of support and accommodation: When BuckeyeShelby expressed concern about being seated next to the “office slob” during chemo, her supervisor quickly had her desk moved.

The small company DonnaSue worked for let her work from home and modify her schedule while recovering from a stem cell transplant.

Not all experiences are positive, though: LiveWithCancer’s employers didn’t actively discriminate against her, but their “accommodations” made her feel so isolated and miserable that she opted to retire early.

Sometimes these are the decisions you have to make, and they’re not easy. For many people, work is closely tied to their identity. Deciding to retire early is also scary as hell, especially if you’re not mentally or financially ready to stop working.

Remember, there is no “one size fits all” approach here.

But if you’re fighting cancer, take some time to get your ducks in a row: Know your rights, know your options, and coordinate with your doctor and HR manager. And don’t wait until your work performance suffers or you get too stressed or sick. Ultimately, your number one job responsibility is to take care of you.

We’ve written about cancer and work at WhatNext before, so check out our articles here and here for a quick refresher. And to learn more about working and cancer, check out:
American Cancer Society
Cancer.net
Live Strong

Of course, we all know the importance of support. That’s why we recommend visiting the National Cancer Institute’s Support Services Locator. And WhatNext member Ejourneys also suggested looking at Cancer and Careers and the Anthem Toolkit, “Workplace Transitions for People Touched by Cancer.”

Ok, so that’s how you do it. But when should you actually make that leap?

While there’s no checklist or rule book to help you make that decision, these signs should signal a shift in your priorities. At the very least, use them as a starting point for discussions with the people who matter most.

Sign 1. Not enough rest at night, too much fatigue and sickness during the day.             Falling Asleep At Work


You won’t do yourself any favors (or give your treatments the best shot at working) if you’re pushing yourself to work through side effects like fatigue, pain, and nausea. Listen to your body…and to your doctor’s instructions, too.

Sign 2. Your quality of work—and your ability to do quality work—is suffering.            High Quality Work


Listen, no one sets out to be lousy at their job. Most folks want to do good work; if you really love your job, you’re even more invested in doing well. But if you love what you do, you have to be honest with yourself: Are you still able to do the job effectively? Do you have the strength and stamina? How about the memory and concentration? Like it or not, all of the qualities that make you good at your job can be impacted by cancer treatment.

Sign 3. The stress of juggling treatment and work is taking a toll.                      Stressed Out From Stressing Out


So maybe you love your job. Or maybe you don’t love it as much as you need it. That’s understandable; what’s not understandable is exposing yourself to so much stress that you don’t have the physical or mental strength to tolerate treatment. Fighting cancer is stressful enough on its own—adding the pressure cooker of deadlines and performance targets can be too much for some people. If financial concerns are driving you to stay on the job, talk to your doctor and ask for referrals to financial advice and assistance.

Sign 4. The accommodations your employer’s made aren’t helping.                                 Working From Home During Cancer


By law, employers cannot discriminate against employees because they have cancer, and they must make reasonable accommodations like lighter-duty work, flexible hours, and more leave time. But if your employer has made accommodations and you’re still struggling with stress and side effects, it may be time to talk to your doctor and HR about disability.

Sign 5. You feel like your job just doesn’t matter as much as other priorities.                       Family Is The Only Thing


Growing up, we’re always told that who we are is closely tied to what we do. Work matters, and our job is as much a part of us as the books we read, the activities we enjoy, and who we choose as friends. But work is just one part of our life, and while it’s important, it’s not the most important. What really matters when we’re facing a challenge like cancer is our health and spending time with the people who matter: Family and friends. If your mind is telling you to stay on the job but your heart isn’t in it anymore, that may be a sign that it’s time to look at your priorities a little differently.

What have your experiences been? What questions have you asked yourself about working and cancer? And are there any resources we missed? Keep the conversation going below!


These aren’t the only things to think about when you’re considering working and cancer. Let’s keep the conversation going: What made you decide to work or not to work? What resources helped you make the transition from full-time employee to full-time cancer fighter?

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