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How to balance cancer treatment and work

Working during cancer treatment can give you a psychological boost and security.

13 June 2017
By Glynis Horning

One in seven men in South Africa and one in eight women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, reports the Cancer Association of SA (CANSA). If you find yourself battling cancer, the decision to continue working during treatment is a personal one only you can make. It will depend on the type of cancer you have, its stage, your treatment, and the demands of your job.

Today, with better screening and earlier diagnosis, about 40% of cancer survivors in the US are of working age, and the situation is thought to be similar in South Africa. Many can’t afford to take time off without pay, or are unwilling to at a crucial stage in their career – even if the disease or treatment leaves them tired, nauseous or wanting time to rethink their life and priorities.

But continuing to work during treatment, if you’re able to, can also be highly beneficial. “It can give a sense of normality, purpose and connection, and take your mind off your cancer struggle,” says Prof Michael Herbst, a CANSA health specialist. It can also be a source of support from your colleagues, if you choose to share your diagnosis.

Find below advice on how to negotiate and balance cancer treatment with work.

1. Talk to your doctor or healthcare team

Ask about the extent of your cancer and the prognosis, and ask about treatment: how often will you need it, and for how long? What are the likely side effects? Explain exactly what your job entails, and discuss honestly whether you could manage it, and what accommodations you could request from your employer to help you.

2. Talk to your employer

“Disclosing to an employer is largely a personal decision, and deciding will depend on your type of work, relationship with your employer, how long you’ve been with them, company policy, and their willingness to accommodate any changes in your output or hours,” says Raoul Kissun, partner in the Employment Law department at Shepstone & Wylie Attorneys in Durban.

If any of your colleagues have had medical problems, find out how they were treated. If your employer is unlikely to be supportive, and you can take leave or sick leave, you may choose to use this and not disclose.

But if your employer is likely to be understanding, disclosure allows you to request accommodations such as:

  • Working flexitime around treatments
  • Working from home, at least on treatment days
  • Job sharing or changing your role
  • Having office space modified (more comfortable seating, for example)
  • Taking leave of absence, and returning initially part-time or flexitime.

If you choose to disclose, do so as soon as possible. “Tell your employer you’re ill (there is no need to give details), and what you know about the treatment course,” says Kissun. “Explain why it’s important for you to keep working. Be confident and assertive and go in with solutions,” suggests Herbst.

3. Know your rights

“Legally, you’re obliged to tell your employer you have a medical condition only if it or the treatment are a health or safety risk to yourself or others, or will affect your ability to do your job, and affect the business financially,” Kissun says. “If you choose to disclose, your employer is obliged to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable you to do your job – adjustments that will not cause the business ‘unjustifiable hardship’.”

Under South African labour law, most employees are entitled to 30 days of sick leave in every three-year work cycle. If you’ve been in a job less than six months, you get one day for every month (26 days) worked, on full pay. “But cancer treatments can quickly exhaust this,” says Kissun.

If you experiences problems, the Employment Equity Act protects workers from retrenchment due to disability, and a diagnosis of cancer which makes work difficult falls under this definition.

“Your boss has a duty to encourage and help you unless circumstances are exceptional,” says Herbst. “There should never be a reason to compromise your care because of work concerns.”

For more information or guidance, contact CANSA on 0800 22 66 22, or visit www.cansa.org.za

How Clicks Clinics can help you with cancer detection

At Clicks Clinics we offer cancer screening methods to detect early signs of cancer, including both Pap smears and breast examinations for women, and the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test for men.

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

Read More: Cancer Super Section