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Breast Cancer: Post Treatment 0 - 6 Months: At Work


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The longer the time since the end of treatment, the less effect your breast cancer or treatment is likely to have at work. Indications are that breast cancer does not affect a woman’s career long term. Still, it is worthwhile keeping track of facts that could have any bearing on a discrimination claim "just in case." 

Don’t be surprised if your self confidence is shaken or you temporarily can’t work as long hours as you used to either physically or emotionally.

You are likely to continue to feel the effects of your treatment for a while. Don't expect to be functioning fully immediately.

  • Prioritize your work.
  • Give your supervisor and co-workers at least a general idea of what you are experiencing physically and emotionally so their expectations are realistic.
  • If you need it, ask for a continuation of any accommodation you received from your employer or help from co-workers  - or ask for a new one if your needs have changed. After all, if you don't get the accommodation your job performance may suffer and your job may be at risk for non-performance. You may be entitled to an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act and similar laws. Even if you aren't, the way to get an accommodation is through negotiation. See: Work How To Request  And Negotiate An Accommodation At Work One accommodation to consider is working at home.
If you haven't disclosed your health condition at work, consider whether to do so now. There is no legal obligation to disclose. Our article about disclosure discusses this issue in depth.

If you had chemotherapy, you may experience a fogginess and forgetfulness due to what is commonly referred to as "chemo brain." Chemo brain may even start after treatment is complete. The odds are that chemo brain will lessen over time and then disappear. (There are techniques to help deal with chemo brain. Click here.)

If you need time off, juggle what the time is called to maximize employer's benefits.  Note that under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides time off without income, the time off does not have to be continuous. It can be in blocks of time, or it can be intermittent, such as taking time to go to a medical appointment. If you need time off due to health, click here.

Discrimination is hard to prove. For instance, just because a person doesn't  get a raise or a job promotion does not necessarily mean that there was discrimination.

  • Start keeping a diary of conversations or actions that you think could indicate that you are being discriminated against. We call such a diary a Work Journal.
  • Include in your diary the good things that happen, such as a good work report, or when someone compliments you for a job well done.  
  • To learn more, click here.

You may or may not be legally protected against discrimination at work by laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Breast cancer as such does not automatically qualify. There needs to be an affect on your daily life. In any event, a lawsuit is a last resort. It is preferable to negotiate for what you need. If necessary, let your employer know that you are aware of the rights people with breast 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.) (For more information, see: Work How To Request  And Negotiate An Accommodation At Work

  • Get as many health related benefits from work as you can, such as health insurance, disability income insurance, and long term care insurance. Increase the amount of your life insurance. In addition to benefiting your estate, 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)
  • Take those credit card offers sent to you because you are employed. See: Credit: Score, Getting, Fixing, Maximizing Use
  • Keep track of facts at work that could have any bearing on a claim that you are being discriminated against because of your health condition "just in case." A good place to keep track is in a Work Journal.
  • 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." See: Preparing In Case Of Disability: Long Term

Consider doing something to acknowledge the extra work co-workers did to help you through treatment. Even just saying "thank you" will be appreciated.

Start doing what you can at work to make your situation better in case of future need. For instance:

  • If you have a choice of health insurance policies, choose one from the point of view of a person with cancer (We provide help with our Cancer Health Plan Evaluator).
  • Consider increasing the amount of your life insurance. Even people with a health condition can usually do this once a year. In addition to leaving money for your beneficiaries, you may be able to access money from life insurance while alive in case you need it. See: New Uses Of Assets - A Living Benefit From Your Life Insurance Policy
  • 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.

For more information, see:

NOTE: It is not unusual for women who have gone through treatment for breast cancer to reevaluate what is important, including wanting a different kind of satisfaction at work or a different balance between work and play.

An underpinning common to long term survivors is the attitude of living each day until you can't. Applied to the work situation, this means: do what you can to find the work that is most satisfying to you and that fits into your work/personal time balance - while doing whatever is necessary to keep or obtain good health insurance coverage.

If you are not satisfied with your job, or want to earn more money or get better benefits, job lock because of a health condition is a thing of the past.

  • You do not have to tell a new employer about your breast cancer history thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • A new employer cannot ask. 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

Is this a time to become self employed or to start your own business? See Self Employed and Work: Self-Employment - Getting Started


  • This articlecontains information particularly relevant to women with breast cancer who have recently completed treatment.  For additional work subjects of interest to women with breast cancer, see: Work: At Work.
  • If you are returning to work after being off work because of your treatment, read about returning to work in the Survivorship A to Z document: "On Disability."
  • 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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