February 21, 2018

Should I work during cancer treatment?

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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.

Learn more

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.