Back to work during cancer treatment

Posted on 8 June 2017

Starting work again during or after cancer treatment can be a difficult transition to make. While cancer treatment is different for everyone, a Mediclinic oncologist gives general advice on how to cope with work during cancer treatment.

‘Treatments can last a couple of months, so we try to disrupt normal activities as little as possible and encourage patients to continue working,’ says Dr Conrad Jacobs, an oncologist specialising in radiation and chemotherapy at Mediclinic Cape Gate and Mediclinic Durbanville hospitals.

‘However, the types of cancer treatments and treatment regimens differ widely depending on the patient’s type of cancer. Some need to be hospitalised and others require a quick outpatient injection or even chemotherapy tablets they can take at home. Treatments all have different side effects, ranging from minimal discomfort to severe pain. So each case will need to be managed independently, depending on the treatment regimen,’ Dr Jacobs adds.

He says a lot of research has gone into helping to minimise the side effects of chemotherapy, making everyday challenges easier for cancer patients to manage.

‘While the treatment hasn’t changed all that much in terms of side effects over the past 10 years, there are a lot more medications available to manage those side effects more effectively,’ he explains.

If you are discharged from hospital after cancer treatment and are able to return to work, here are general tips to help you cope:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Try to reduce your workload and discuss a strategy with your manager so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
  2. Take control of your inbox. Some people find it effective to set up an automatic reply that they will only check their emails twice a day. Stick to the rule.
  3. Listen to calming music. With high-speed internet available at most companies these days, you can choose your favourite tunes on YouTube, which will help you block out stressful and distracting noises and make your day more enjoyable.
  4. Be honest. When you’re not feeling well and need to go home early, be honest with your colleagues and let them support you.
  5. But don’t withdraw. Chatting and laughing with colleagues may help to lift your mood and forget about your worries for a while.
  6. Make time for healthy lunches and snacks. Eating regularly throughout the day may help minimise symptoms such as nausea.
  7. Make time for mild exercise. A walk in a nearby park at lunchtime could help you feel refreshed and boost your immune system – but stay away from crowded places that could have the opposite effect.

My colleague is going through chemo – how can I help?

  1. Don’t ignore the situation, but take your cues from your colleague. Be genuine and heartfelt in your comments; ask them how they are doing and how you can help. Avoid well-meaning but potentially harmful comments such as ‘Just stay positive!’ – they could make your colleague feel as if their very real fears and concerns are not legitimate.
  2. Offer help in concrete ways, such as bringing your colleague a healthy lunch once a week or making time to stroll in the park together.
  3. Remember, each cancer story is different and your cousin’s child’s best friend’s father’s cancer tale might not be helpful to your colleague. Rather let them know you are available to talk or listen and let them take the conversation from there.

Above all, keep your relationship normal, show patience and compassion, and keep your colleague’s confidentiality – do not discuss their treatment or symptoms with anyone without their permission.

Published in Cancer

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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