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You may be worried about whether you will be able to continue working during or after treatment. Cancer treatment can be costly, and you may have to think about whether you can afford the medical bills and support your family financially if you stop working. Cancer may affect your work-life:

  • Physically: Coping with cancer can be physically demanding. Common side effects from treatment like pain, fatigue, vomiting and shortness of breath can affect your work productivity, memory and concentration. You may also be more prone to infections, if you are on certain chemotherapy drugs.

  • Emotionally: During your battle against cancer, you may experience a range of negative emotions which can take a toll on your work life. Most people experience some degree of depression and anxiety during their cancer journey.

  • Socially: You may face difficulties telling your employers about your diagnosis, and have to cope with possible issues about letting or not letting co-workers know about your diagnosis.

  • Practical issues at work: You may have to take time off from work for your treatment or check-ups. You may also have to take extended leave or stop work due to treatment side effects and/or the need to relieve yourself from taking added physical and mental stress. Practical problems may crop up if your employer is not supportive or if you face difficulty offloading your work responsibilities. Some patients who choose to stop working during treatment may face difficulties in finding or sustaining re-employment after treatment ends due to various combinations of issues. 

Making decisions about work

The uncertainty of cancer treatment and its side effects can make it hard for you to plan work duties beforehand. Be sure to ask your doctor how treatment will affect you and if you can continue working. Whether you choose to stop or carry on working during your treatment depends on many factors. Here are some questions to think over regarding your work arrangements:

  • How should I communicate about my diagnosis and needs with my employer?
  • What are some alternative arrangements can I negotiate with my employer about?
  • How much work will I need to cut back on temporarily?
  • How will my cancer treatment affect the way I work, and how much rest should I get during this period?
  • Where can I get help and support?
  • What is my current financial status, and will I need extra financial assistance during this period?
  • If I do not work, where can I get the extra financial help?
  • How safe for myself and others is it if I continue working during treatment?

Changing jobs/ Re-employment

For some people, returning to the same job after cancer treatment may not be possible. These are some extra questions to think over before your job switch:

  • What skills can I transfer over to my new job position?
  • Will I need extra training?
  • What adjustments are needed in my new job?
  • How can I make the adjustment?

Talking to your employer

While you do not need to go into specific details of your cancer, you should let your employer know if your illness could become a safety hazard to yourself or others in your workplace; and focus your conversation on how cancer may impact your work performance, including some adjustments that may be needed – both practical and in terms of expectations. By opening up about your illness, it allows you to discuss support you may need in the workplace. Have an open discussion with your employer to plan the next course of action.

In the case of re-employment, while you do not need to go into specific details of your cancer, you need to let your prospective employer know about your illness for insurance purposes as indicated by Ministry of Manpower. You should not be refused employment on the basis of a previous cancer diagnosis or treatment.

You should also let your employer know if you do not want to share the information with your colleagues.

Check with your employer or HR department about how much paid and unpaid leave you are entitled to. Under Singapore’s Employment Act, you are entitled to both paid outpatient and hospitalization sick leave if you have worked for at least three months with your employer. Be sure to give your employer ample notice when you need to take time off, so that he can make other work arrangements.

Employers operating in Singapore are expected to follow the Tripartite Guidelines, which include guidelines on employment discrimination.If you think you have been unfairly treated, contact the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) for advice.

Social challenges

The diagnosis of cancer can cause most people to undergo significant adjustments in managing relationships with people around them, including co-workers. Some may find it difficult to relate to others, for fear of being treated differently. Many have to depend on their others in their cancer journey – and this may be particularly difficult for those who have been physically and/or emotionally independent all their lives. This adjustment can cause much frustration and anxiety.

You may prefer to not tell your colleagues about your cancer diagnosis. However, some people with cancer do find solace in their co-workers’ encouragement and practical support. Consider telling people whom you think are likely to be supportive. If you feel uncomfortable telling them directly, you could ask your supervisor or manager to do so. Your employer will need your permission to share information about your illness.

What you can do

Get organized. Keep a work log of meetings, duties, leave taken and appointments. File important documents like work contracts and medical leave certificates in separate folders. See https://www.nccs.com.sg/patient-care/Pages/Managing-Social-and-Work-Challenges.aspx for more tips.

Everyone copes with problems differently, but you may approach your cancer care team for help if you find that you are unable to cope with work demands, feel that your work environment is not supportive to your needs, feel isolated/ lonely at the workplace and are experiencing difficulty adjusting to changes brought about by cancer.


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