Working, Your Career, and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) can impact your life in many ways. An important factor it can affect is your career. One study found that two-thirds of working women stopped working after their MBC diagnosis.1-3

Managing your job and MBC can depend on several factors, such as:

  • The type of job you have
  • Your overall health
  • Your treatments

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Choosing to continue to work

Choosing if you should continue to work can be difficult. Many people do not have the funds to leave their job. Talk with your doctor to decide if it is an option for you to continue working. They will be able to explain side effects that might impact you at work. They can also suggest ways to modify your work so it is more manageable.1,2

Your age can also impact your decision to work. Young and midlife women are typically earlier in their career and more likely to be working. For these women, leaving their job can result in more financial loss. One study estimated that, in 1 year, women with MBC in the United States lost almost 400 million dollars worth of productivity. Of this, over 80 percent was lost by young (18- to 44-year-old) and midlife (45- to 64-year-old) women.1,4

Most Americans also get health insurance through their work. This means if you leave your job, you also may lose health insurance. You may be eligible for COBRA coverage for up to 29 months after leaving your job. COBRA is a law that guarantees health insurance after you leave a job. But it can be very expensive. You can also consider Medicaid or Affordable Care Act plans.1,5

Choosing to share your diagnosis at work

You are not required to share your diagnosis at work. With your coworkers, you can choose to talk about your diagnosis or not. But if you need to request accommodations or time off, you may need to tell your employer about your MBC. If you are not comfortable sharing your specific diagnosis, you can say you have a "serious medical condition."1,2

You may need your doctor to fill out forms to verify to your employer that you are receiving treatment for MBC. If you want to keep your diagnosis private, tell your doctor. They can make sure to describe your MBC as a "serious medical condition" or something similar.1,2

Talking about your diagnosis at work

How you choose to talk about your diagnosis at work is a personal decision. Legally, even if you tell your employer about your MBC, they cannot tell anyone else. So you can decide who to tell. You may feel self-conscious explaining that you will need to take time off. But your coworkers may be understanding and supportive.1,2

Legal rights as an employee

In the United States, there are laws that protect employees who are ill or disabled. These include:1,2

  • A potential employer cannot ask if you have a disability.
  • You cannot be fired for having MBC if you can still do your job.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to government employers and all businesses with more than 50 employees. With FMLA, your job is protected for up to 12 weeks (60 days) while you are on leave. You do not need to take this time all at once.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that your employer provide reasonable accommodations for you to complete your job. Examples of accommodations are a stool to sit on or short breaks to take medicines.
  • If you are out of work for at least 1 year, you may be eligible for Social Security disability pay.

Getting help and finding support at work

Your employer may also have programs to help you during treatment. Talk to human resources (HR) for help understanding and using your company’s programs. Help and support at work might include:1,2

  • Using sick time. Many people use sick days to take time off for treatment or recovery. Talk to HR about your limitations on sick days.
  • Short-term or long-term disability. These plans will depend on your company. Disability benefits give some income if you cannot work.
  • Ask if it is possible to change your schedule to part-time or reduced time.
  • If you have told your coworkers, reach out for support. They might be able to help you manage your time or get work done.

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