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Colorectal Cancer: Post Treatment 0-6 Months: At Work: Stages 0,I

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As you know, the fact that you had colorectal cancer increases the risk that colorectal cancer will reappear or another cancer will appear. While risk does not mean a certainty that this will happen, it is wise to be prepared. Especially when the steps do not require a lot of effort.

  • Start keeping a Work Journal which includes conversations or actions that you think could indicate that you are being discriminated against. Also include in your journal the good things that happen, such as a good work report, or when someone compliments you for a job well done. For information about this subject, click here.
  • Get as many health related benefits from work as you can. For instance:
  • Take those credit card offers sent to you because you are employed. Credit can come in handy to pay medical bills or related expenses if necessary. See; The Importance of Credit To The Journey After Diagnosis  Also see: New Uses Of Credit

It is not unusual for people who have gone through a diagnosis for colorectal cancer to reevaluate what is important, including wanting a different kind of satisfaction at work or a different balance between work and play. You may even want to become self employed or start your own business. (For tips about starting a new business, click here). 

  • What could happen in the future is not a reason to prevent you from pursuing your dream. Still, it is advisable to take some time before making a big change so your emotions have time to settle.
  • If you are not satisfied with your job, or want to earn more money or get better benefits, job lock because of a health history is a thing of the past. See: Work: Changing Your Job Or Career
  • You do not have to tell a new employer about your colorectal cancer history thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • A new employer cannot ask about your health history or current health condition.
  • Your current health insurance counts as a credit against any waiting period a new employer's health insurance imposes on new hires for preexisting conditions thanks to a law known as HIPAA
  • Unless the idea of changing jobs or going off on your own has been on the burner since before your diagnosis, consider not acting on the idea for at least 3 months to give emotions time to settle.

If you haven't disclosed your health condition at work, consider whether to do so now.

  • There is no legal obligation to disclose and no right or wrong. However, keeping a secret is stressful. The greater the secret, the greater the stress. Stress impacts the immune system. 
  • To help figure out what to do, see our article about disclosure to employers and our article about disclosure to co-workers.

Keep in mind that if your cancer returns, there are a variety of legal rights that relate to work (in addition to any rights you may have if you are a member of a union). For instance, you may be protected against discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar laws, (Among other requirements for protection, you have to disclose your condition to our employer). See: Work: Discrimination 101

How to plan ahead “Just in case”: 

  • Do whatever you can to get or keep health insurance. (If you don't have health insurance with your current job, think about changing jobs to an employer who provides health insurance, such as the government. See: Changing Your Job Or Career
  • Each year you may be able to pick a new health insurance policy. Pick the best one from the point of view of a person with cancer. (Survivorship A to Z shows you how in our Cancer Health Plan Evaluator).
  • Take disability income insurance and long term care insurance if they are offered.
  • Take life insurance. Increase the death benefit on any policies you have. Even people with a health condition can usually do this once a year. In addition to providing for your heirs,  if you become ill you may be able to access money while you are alive. (See: New Uses Of Assets: A Living Benefit From Your Life Insurance
  • Start keeping a work journal containing facts that could have any bearing on a claim that you are being discriminated against at work because of your health condition "just in case." 
  • Learn how to maximize time off using your employer's benefits such as Sick Leave and your rights under laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act. See: How To Maximize Your Benefits If You Need Time Off For Health Reasons
  • Sock as much money as you can into tax deferred savings accounts such as a 401(k) or a Health Savings Plan. To learn how to maximize use of one of these accounts, see: Tax Advantaged Health Savings Plans
  • Create an Emergency+Fund. The key is to put as much cash aside as you can in case of recurrence. 
  • While you are employed, you likely receive credit card offers in the mail. Consider taking the cards. Taking the cards is not the same as using them - except to the minimum extent needed to keep them in force. Credit will be valuable if your colorectal cancer returns or if another type of cancer appears.
  • Start planning at work in case you eventually have to leave work to go on disability. It doesn't take a lot of time - and will be invaluable "if".  (If you are close to going on disability, see: Steps To Take To Prepare To Leave Work And Go On Disability)
  • Learn about the disability income sources to which you may be entitled.
    • Check benefits at work.
    • Look at the requirements for obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is a benefit to which you are entitled because you paid premiums for it from every pay check. (Don’t ultimately apply without first reading about how to apply as an educated consumer that makes it more likely to get a "yes." Click here.
    • If you have health insurance through work, you will be entitled to continue it if you leave work under laws generally known as COBRA. (click here.)  Since you will have to pay the premium, start thinking about how to pay for the coverage in case you become unable to work and have to pay the premium yourself. If you won’t be able to afford the premium, and cannot be covered under a spouse's coverage, look to see if you can qualify for Medicaid.

Insurers think of disability as something that happens at a defined moment. In reality, you have some control over whether and when you will be considered to be disabled for purposes of an insurer's programs or insurance such as SSDI. To prepare "just in case": 

  • Each time you see your doctor, tell him or her about how your health condition affects your work. Ask the doctor to include this information in your medical record. This information will serve as a record that bolsters your eventual claim. It will also give your doctor a better understanding of how your life is being affected by your health condition.
  • Consider seeing a mental health therapist. In addition to helping during your transition, a diagnosis of a mental condition such as depression can be considered to be a disabling condition in and of itself. 

If you run into problems at work:

  • You may or may not be legally protected at work against discrimination and you may have a right to a change in the way you work in order to accommodate your needs (an "accommodation) thanks to laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Colorectal cancer as such does not automatically qualify. There needs to be an affect on your daily life.
  • Whether you are protected or not, a lawsuit to enforce whatever rights you have is a last resort.
  • It is preferable to figure out what you need and then to negotiate for it. If you are not good at negotiating yourself, ask someone to do it for you.
  • If necessary, let your employer know that you are aware of the rights people with colorectal cancer have under the Americans With Disabilities Act. While not asserting that you are covered legally, the reminder of the existence of the law may encourage your employer to do the right thing. (Note that we are not suggesting you say you are covered by the law if you are not.  or to threaten a lawsuit. Most people do not respond well to a threat).
  • See: Work: How To Request  And Negotiate An Accommodation

If you are considering changing jobs, click here for information.

If you are a small business owner with one or more employee, click here. 

If you are self employed, click here.

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