Life Planning

Balancing Work, Treatment and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Continuing to work can provide a source of normalcy and financial security, but it can also be stressful. It's up to you to decide whether you can or want to work. Coming up with a plan to balance work, treatment and life priorities is important.

In a survey of 1,252 US metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients, over 40% of working-age patients continue in their role at work.1

The degree of symptoms you experience may determine whether you can continue to work, but ultimately you have to do what is right for you, your lifestyle, and your family.

You will need to figure out how to manage the emotional, physical, and legal aspects of balancing your job and your treatment – which is highly individualized. The more you understand how your diagnosis and treatment could impact your work, the better you can partner with your treatment team and workplace to develop a plan that works for you.

Create an action plan

If you decide you want and/or need to continue work, talk to your social worker and health care team about how to balance work and treatment. These conversations will help you prepare for conversations with your manager and HR team. Ask questions like:

  • Do you think my current responsibilities will be realistic in treatment? In what ways should I try to scale back or change my day-to-day work?

  • Do you have tips/recommendations for ways to conserve energy on my treatments?

  • Will I need to take time off? Can we work out a schedule that allows me to work?

It may be helpful to speak with a financial advisor who can help you set spending and savings goals. You will want to walk away from these conversations with answers to the following questions:

  • Can I afford to leave my job or work part time, if needed?

  • What steps do I need to take to ensure that I will be okay financially for the next 5 years? 10 years?

Understand your employee rights

  • Before disclosing anything, familiarize yourself with your employee benefits and short and long-term disability options.

  • Consider how you can use these policies to accommodate your needs. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off to address a serious medical condition.

  • Fear of discrimination or bias may affect how you approach your diagnosis at work. It’s important to understand your rights. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws are designed to prevent discrimination at work.

Talk to your employer

Consider the following before having a conversation with your employer.

  • The culture: Before you consider who you tell and how, you may want to consider your workplace and culture. Is your workplace big and formal, or small and close-knit? Has anyone else in your workplace had cancer or another medical condition, and how was it handled?

  • How much you want to say: No one is entitled to information about your health, and it is up to you to decide who you want to tell and how much information you want to disclose. Keep in mind that in order to request a reasonable accommodation or medical leave, you may have to disclose a medical condition — though not necessarily an exact diagnosis.

  • Who to tell: It’s likely you’ll need to first tell your supervisor and human resources department and work with them to determine any changes to your day-to-day. From there, consider which of your co-workers may need to know.

  • Set boundaries and expectations: It may be important to set expectations related to your role on the team, anticipated change in appearance, and other day-to-day changes that may occur.

For a list of tips on how to adjust to MBC at work, click the button.

  1. 1. Cancer Support Community, Metastatic Breast Cancer Specialty Registry Report 2017. Retrieved from:

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