Balancing Cancer and Your Job

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Do Your Homework

1. Do your homework. Find out how long your treatment will last, its side effects, and how you might be affected. Good sources of information? An oncology nurse or social worker at the facility where you'll be treated. Because they regularly work with cancer patients, they understand the challenges of working through treatment, explains Barbara Hoffman, an attorney and founding board member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Among the questions you should ask: "When can I expect changes in my appearance, such as hair loss?" "Will I need a modified work schedule?" "How much time off will I need?" A 2004 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people missed, on average, 30.5 days of work in the first year after they were diagnosed with cancer; by contrast, people who didn't have cancer missed just 5.7 days.

2. Review how much leave you are entitled to. This includes sick days, vacation time, and any disability policies your company may have. Most people who work for a company with 50 or more employees are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which permits 12 weeks of medical leave -- usually unpaid -- during each 12-month period. Companies with fewer than 50 employees may have state-regulated family and medical leave laws. Check with your state's workforce commission or commission on human rights for details or go to the Department of Labor's Web site and search by state.


Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, any company with at least 15 employees must make reasonable "accommodations" for disabilities, including those caused by cancer treatment. For example, your employer must adjust your work hours, your responsibilities, or your work location if any or all of them compromise your health. Also, you can't be treated differently -- meaning you can't be turned down for a promotion or paid less. However, you can be fired if you can't perform essential job duties after your employer makes accommodations. If your company has fewer than 15 employees, accommodation laws are state-regulated. For information, go to or contact your state's workforce commission or commission on human rights.

Continued on page 3:  Talk to Your Supervisor


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