12 Things to Consider if your Colleague is Returning to Work after Cancer Treatment

By Cancer Foundation on November 8 / 2016

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers]Comments

Do you have a colleague returning to work after cancer treatment? Not sure what to say or do?

Here are twelve things to consider:

Returning to work after being off with cancer is both a milestone and a hurdle. A milestone to celebrate in that being well enough to work may be a big step forwards in life after treatment. A hurdle because returning to work can be extremely hard, both physically and emotionally.

Be welcoming. There are no perfect words. No need to say how sad you feel on their behalf, or tell them about your uncle who had cancer. Just let them know you are happy to see them, and that they were missed. Small thoughtful gestures can go a long way.

Ease their transition back to work. Don’t be surprised if your returning colleague comes back gradually rather than plunging right back into full time hours. It takes time to fully recover from cancer and treatment, to rebuild physical stamina and confidence. They may still have many medical appointments to attend. Allow time and offer support to re-acclimatize, learn new procedures and adapt to the changes in technology that may have come about over the weeks or months of medical leave.

Respect their boundaries. Not every cancer survivor wants to disclose their medical situation or talk about their experience of cancer. Allow your colleague to take the lead on what they want to share. Focus on them as a whole being and a unique individual beyond the diagnosis of cancer

Remember that not all of the effects of cancer treatment are obvious. Outward signs like hair loss, weight loss and pallor may not be evident. A cancer survivor may return to work looking like their old self on the outside, but feeling very different on the inside. Cancer is a life-altering event.

Have patience. Many cancer survivors struggle with symptoms of fatigue and brain fog for months after treatment. Most people do get better in time, but returning workers are often exhausted by the end of the work day from the brain strain of focusing and concentrating.

Think outside the box. Small accommodations to the work environment can go a long way to help and hasten recovery, such as more time to accomplish tasks, flexible work hours, and minimizing stimuli such as noise and interruptions.

Stay present. Unlike decades past, many people are living and working with cancer. For some, cancer is a chronic condition that they will have to manage for the rest of their lives. For others, it is a chapter that they hope to put behind them, while living with long term effects of treatment and the possibility of recurrence.

Get involved in cancer fundraising. Money raised through local events impacts cancer survivors directly, funding research, equipment and cancer coaching.

Pick up the tab at lunch or coffee break. Cancer has a huge financial impact for many survivors and their families. Not all treatment costs are covered by provincial health insurance plans or extended health benefits, and earnings are reduced on disability.

Remind them of their strengths. Survivors have much to contribute to the work force, having developed new strengths, skills and wisdom through coping with the challenges of diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

If you wish to receive more information about questions or inquiries related to cancer, the Foundation offers complimentary Private 1:1 coaching, and group coaching workshops for cancer survivors and caregivers.

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