Hester Hill Schnipper Photo courtesy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

DURING CANCER TREATMENT AND RECOVERY, it is almost impossible to sustain our usual obligations and routines without making adjustments. In a work environment, asking for accommodations or support may leave you feeling vulnerable. However, a bit of planning and communication can help you manage work responsibilities as you make your way through treatment.

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits workplace discrimination against people with cancer, among other conditions, and the Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees, as well as caregivers in their immediate family, to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off for a serious illness. While it’s important to understand these federal protections, as well as any applicable state or local laws, they don’t necessarily speak to the challenges you might face on a personal level. 

Here are some strategies for asking for help in the workplace.

1) It takes strength to admit to your manager and work associates that you are going through a tough time. Being open about your limitations will allow you and others to come up with a plan that keeps work projects moving.

2) If you have concerns about how your manager will receive the news of your treatment, first speak with someone at your workplace who oversees staff-related issues, such as a human resources professional. This person should be able to advise you about company procedures, your rights as an employee, and the best way to approach the topic with your supervisor.

3) Ask your health care team what to expect from treatment. Having a good understanding of typical side effects can help you anticipate what might be necessary, including whether you’ll need special accommodations or if you’ll require intermittent leave.

4) Think about each of your job responsibilities and separate them into categories. Can some responsibilities wait six months? Do certain tasks happen at regular intervals?

5) Check with your supervisor to see what tasks can wait for your return or if someone else might be able to oversee long-term projects. If possible, continue to perform the tasks that play to your unique strengths and abilities.

6) Consider delegating responsibilities in a way that maximizes the talents of colleagues.

7) Each work culture is different. Check with management to ensure you go through the proper channels if colleagues need to assume some of your workload.

8) Remind yourself that people who are helping out aren’t likely to do things just as you would; let go of your judgments of their work.

9) Remember to show your appreciation. In time, you may be able to return the favor.

Giving others the chance to help can be a wonderful gift, particularly for those who may be looking for ways to support your recovery. 

Hester Hill Schnipper, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor who served as the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.