February 21, 2018

Should I work during cancer treatment?


The choice is not the same for everyone. We talk through the factors to help you decide if you should work during cancer treatment.


The type of job you have, the level of physical labor required and the stress your career places on you will all play a role in whether you decide to keep working while receiving treatment for cancer. With the help of Vandana Abramson, M.D., an oncologist at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, we walk through some important considerations of this difficult decision.

Cancer treatments may prevent you from performing at your usual level.

“People should give themselves a break about this,” Abramson said. While going through treatment, you’ll likely tire more easily. Multitasking might be more difficult and, on some days, work might not even be possible. Of course, you may at times feel you are at full capacity. “Cutting back to half-time, if feasible, is a reasonable approach,” Abramson said. She also suggests joining a support group and finding other methods to relieve stress, like walking.

Talk to your doctor about the side effects of your treatment.

“Since different treatment regimens lead to side effects at different times, it is important for a person to talk to his or her doctor about when the worst times will be,” Abramson said. “For example, some patients get a high dose of steroids with their treatment and they have a lot of energy for the first one or two days after their treatment and ‘crash’ on the third or fourth day.” Others may experience the most fatigue right after chemo or a week after chemo. If you continue to work during treatment, Abramson suggests finding a place to rest in the middle of the day if possible.

Decide whether to let co-workers and supervisors know what you are facing.

“Whether a person tells his or her co-workers about having cancer and receiving treatment is a personal decision, but it is important to recognize that for the most part, people want to help,” she said. Informing your supervisors and co-workers also helps prepare them to shift your workload a bit when things get tough.

Living with Cancer

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The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a national leader in patient care and research. Vanderbilt offers the region’s most complete range of oncology care, from advanced imaging to team-based treatment options to genetic cancer medicine and the latest in therapies being studied in clinical trials.

6 thoughts on “Should I work during cancer treatment?”

  1. john lefevers says:

    Lots and lots of prayer helped me make the decision.

  2. Carolyn Hale says:

    I worked for the first few weeks of my radiation treatment. Then I became exhausted. I am a teacher and there was no rest from the time the kids arrived until they went home. For me I took every Wednesday off which was mid week. I could do the two days knowing I had time off. I also was taking of my parents to a certain extent like cooking, taking to,the grocery store, etc. it was too much to handle along with working during this time.

  3. Kathy Tanksley says:

    I worked during chemo for colon cancer. Why did I work??? I was a single parent with two young children. Was in outside sales with an awesome support team. Couldn’t work the week of or week after chemo and inferon shots. The third and fourth week went back to work. Week after that chemo/shots started all over. But I made it! 24 years ago!

    1. Kicaruthers says:

      I’m am going through chemo for colon cancer now have been taking chemo for almost a year and some radiation . I have been working have to take off days for treatment days and a few days after radiation

  4. My Southern Health says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences. It is so helpful for others to hear from those who have gone before. – Cynthia

  5. Rebecca Hickman says:

    I was working part-time for a wonderful family oriented company where I live. When I had surgery, chemo and radiation I didn’t work for a year. When I did go back, it is three days a week because I love being out. I happen to be on Medicare with supplemental insurance, so I didn’t have the insurance worry.
    I had lots of side effects from chemo so it would have been hard to work then. Lots of prayers, family and friends helped me get through the last year. I had a wonderful care team starting with Dr, Abramason.

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