Q I recently found out I have breast cancer. It looks like my treatment will take a lot of time over the next three months. Is it possible to keep working while undergoing treatment for breast cancer?
It is amazing how many appointments can be needed to treat cancer. While you need your paycheck and your insurance, you may wonder how you can undergo chemotherapy and radiation and still keep your job. You may also be concerned that the side effects of chemotherapy will prevent you from working. You might be surprised to learn that many women do continue to work even while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
You've probably seen movies in which the chemotherapy made the patient more ill than the cancer did. The side effects that you will experience will depend on the types of medications you are given, their dosages, and the length of treatment. The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:
- Lack of appetite
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Increased risk of infection
- Bruising or bleeding
- Changes in menstrual cycles
Ask your doctor about the side effects associated with your specific chemotherapy medications and how they can best be managed. Schedule accordingly. For instance, if you will be undergoing weekly chemotherapy that will leave you tired and nauseated for about 24 hours after treatment, you might want to consider scheduling your treatments for Friday nights. Then you would have the weekend to rest.
If you have severe side effects from chemotherapy, you will need to temporarily adjust your schedule. You may even have to take time off from work. This is a big deal, especially if you are dependent on your job for health care benefits and to make ends meet.
Before talking to your supervisor, make sure you know your employer's sick leave policy. Employers are required by federal law to provide “reasonable accommodations” for anyone with a disability. When cancer affects your ability to participate in life activities, it qualifies as a disability. Reasonable accommodation for cancer can include:
- Providing an altered work schedule or flextime
- Granting time off for doctor visits, treatment, and recovery from treatment
- Allowing short breaks during the workday so you can rest
- Temporarily reassigning some of your tasks to another employee
- Allowing job sharing
- Making changes to the workplace environment (such as turning up the heat or offering a padded chair) to increase comfort
- Allowing an employee to work from home
- Allowing a leave of absence
When you tell your boss about your diagnosis, be clear that you want to keep working. Make a list of reasonable accommodations that will help you do your job while you recover. The request cannot cause your employer “undue hardship”; however, most accommodations cost less than $500.
If the effects of the cancer or its treatment become severe, you may need to take time off. People who receive a cancer diagnosis are protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work for medical reasons. The 12 weeks do not have to be continuous.
To qualify for FMLA, you must meet the following conditions:
- You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months before the FMLA request.
- You must have worked more than 1,250 hours in that calendar year.
- Your employer must have at least 50 employees.
If you have to take leave, short-term disability insurance can help you make ends meet. If your cancer keeps you out of work for a year or longer, you may want to look into Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). For more information about applying for SSDI for breast cancer, request a free copy of Boston Social Security attorney John Keefe’s book titled Unlocking the Mystery – The Essential Guide for Navigating the Social Security Disability Claims Process, or contact Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847.