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Managing Your Career After a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

A common issue considered after receiving a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis is whether or not to work, and if so, how to manage new challenges and life changes as they arise. Several things to consider when navigating this aspect of your breast cancer journey include the following.

Decide what’s best for you

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether or not to continue working after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. Some individuals may want to take time away to focus on other hobbies or responsibilities. Others may want to travel or take time to themselves. However, for some, leaving work may not be an option, despite their diagnosis. This is especially true for those who are dependent on their job to support themselves or their family, as well as to maintain their insurance or pay for healthcare appointments and other treatment-related costs. It’s also possible for an individual to want to continue working, regardless of their diagnosis, especially if their job provides them with a sense of fulfillment, personal joy, or a strong support network.

Whatever the case may be, any approach to the question of whether or not to work (and how to do so) is completely acceptable. It’s most important to evaluate what you need, and how your work best fits into that picture, if at all.

Create and maintain open lines of communication

If you feel comfortable, consider talking to trusted co-workers about what’s going on in your life. If nothing else, it is especially important to create open lines of communication with your supervisor, manager, or other authoritative figures who might be evaluating your performance at work. Letting others around you know about any potential (or current) effects your condition may have on you and your performance may help keep everyone on the same page when it comes to determining what to expect from you at work. For example, if you know you’re going to need to miss some time at work to attend healthcare appointments or to undergo treatment, tell your supervisor or trusted colleagues. This way, they have adequate time to prepare and help take on any responsibilities that you may need assistance with while you’re gone.

It may also be a good idea to ask in advance for understanding on days when things get rough. There may be days when you need to unexpectedly miss work, come in late, or leave early because of your health. It’s also a good idea to be honest with others, especially your supervisors, if you think your condition or its treatment (including treatment side-effects) may impact your ability to perform your job to your fullest potential. Letting others know what’s going on and why you may need to be absent or work at a different pace can keep everyone on the same page when it comes to workplace expectations.

Be prepared on how treatment or further cancer progression might impact you

As mentioned, some aspects of your life with metastatic breast cancer, including treatment side-effects, may impact your ability to perform your work at the same level as before. Listening to your body will be so important during this time, and it may lead you to need to take more breaks, slow down, or turn down certain tasks.

Keeping others around you in the loop and setting realistic goals with your supervisor may help with navigating this, however, you may need to alter some workplace habits you have in order to keep up with any changes you’re experiencing. For example, if you’re experiencing brain fog or memory issues as a result of treatment, you may need to write things down more often or keep a more detailed calendar. You also may need to enlist the help of others on tasks that you might have been able to complete on your own in the past. Being open to these changes and trying out new habits as obstacles arise can help keep you performing at a high level.

Investigate time-off options, if needed

Ultimately, there may come a time when you need, or want, to take time away from your job. In some cases, this may be challenging if you or your family are very reliant on your income. No matter what the situation, it may be a good idea to investigate options for extended time off. This includes looking into short- or long-term disability, which may provide you with some supplemental income over a set period of time away from work. Companies can have varying policies on how they handle these situations, so it may be best to check in with your HR representative at work to find out what options are available to you. There is no shame or weakness in exploring these options and taking time off if needed.

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