The Beacon December FY22

back to work after breast cancer treatment Transitioning

Jo Lewis

R eturning to work after you’ve taken time off for breast emotions. Some people can’t wait to get back to work and a sense of normality, while others feel nervous about how they’ll cope. So, how can you ensure your return to work works best for you? cancer treatment may bring up some mixed The Beacon asked Jo Lewis, an Occupational Therapist working as a Clinical Program Consultant with CancerAid and Associate Lecturer at the University of Sydney, for her advice on how you can take charge of returning to work.


TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS TO HELP YOU RETURN TO WORK Many employees say they don’t return to work after cancer because they don’t feel supported by their employer or they haven’t been offered flexible work arrangements to help with their return to work. Some ways your employer can help you feel supported before and after you return to work are: • Take the time to understand breast cancer is a chronic disease. Treatment can have long-term effects on a person’s • S how they care—they could send you an email to let you know they’re thinking of you and care about you, ask if there is there anything they can do for you or let you know there’s no pressure to get back to work. • H elp you stay socially connected with colleagues while you’re undergoing physical, cognitive and psychological wellbeing. treatment. This may include inviting you to a work lunch or another social activity. It’s important for employers to know their responsibilities under disability discrimination legislation. Employers need to consider reasonable adjustments so it is helpful for them to be proactive in planning and offering these.

Before you talk to your employer, be prepared. Make notes about what your job involved before you left work. Think about how you are going at the moment and consider any side effects (such as fatigue or reduced concentration) from the treatment or the cancer itself. Then, based on these side effects, list any duties you think you will find difficult. Also make a note of any ongoing appointments or programs you need to keep up to assist with your recovery and how these might impact your work. Take control of the situation by being proactive. Evaluate your job and capacity to perform, and then go to your employer and let them know what you think you can manage, and that you’d like to make a plan for the future when you’re feeling more able. This conversation will help you and your employer agree on any reasonable adjustments you need. It also shows your employer you’re keen to get back to work and reduces the chances of you taking on duties you can no longer manage. Together, you can develop a return to work plan that establishes realistic expectations for both you and your employer and outlines agreed changes to your tasks and responsibilities.


Your employer and colleagues may be able to better support you if they are educated about the physical, cognitive and psychological impacts of breast cancer. However, deciding how much you want to disclose to your employer and colleagues generally depends on your pre- existing relationship. If you feel comfortable sharing your experience with people in the workplace, it can help them to understand what you’ve been through and be able to provide the support you need.

December 2022 | Issue 93

Breast Cancer Network Australia


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