Cancer is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the U.S. and a leading cause of disability leave from work. Over the course of their lives, about half of all men and one-third of all women will develop cancer.
Chances are, you can look around at work and see several people who have experienced, or been involved with, a diagnosis of cancer.
The American Cancer Society reports close to 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. and that number is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024. Eighty percent of working-age cancer patients return to their jobs.
“We see an increasing number of cancer patients who are staying at work and working through treatment,” said Heidi Bimrose, director of Workforce Solution Group at Unum. “There has been a mindset in the past that cancer patients can’t work, but that has begun to change.”
Bimrose says the right support on the job, as well as reliable and flexible benefits, can make a tremendous difference in working through or around a diagnosis of cancer. Bimrose, who was treated for breast cancer in 2014, offers these tips:
- Know your resources and benefits – In addition to your medical coverage, you may have access to important benefits or services. Ask about leave options, including sick days, disability and Family and Medical Leave (FMLA). Disability insurance or critical illness/cancer insurance may provide you with important financial support for expenses that can add up quickly. And an Employee Assistance Program may have free counseling services available or some tools to help you with work-life issues.
- Set your boundaries – Everyone has different preferences on how public or private they want to be about their diagnosis. It’s a good idea to talk to your boss about whom he or she can tell (or not tell). And it may help for you to identify a family member or friend who can be the main point of contact on job-related matters.
- Ask for some help – A supportive work environment can make a huge difference in recovery and the ability to stay at work or return to work. Communicate openly and candidly before, during and after treatment. And if you want to work through treatment or return to work as soon as possible, this may require some reasonable accommodations to help you adjust. Examples may include:
- Modifying a workspace
- Modifying your schedule: flexible work, telecommuting, part time work
- Modified break schedule
- Provide leave time
- Removing travel requirements
“Work is an important part of my life and that didn’t change during my diagnosis and treatment,” Bimrose said. “I wanted to be accountable to my team and to keep things as normal as possible. Cancer can become too much of a focus and I wanted to keep it in perspective. The work – and support of my colleagues and supervisors – helped me do that.”