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What to Do When Cancer Treatment Makes Working Difficult

When you're going through treatment, going to work and your paycheck are probably the last things you want to worry about. Even though you may not feel well enough to work, financially you may need to continue working during cancer treatment. Fortunately, there are options to help you decide how you can adjust your current work schedule.

Finding what works for you

If you and your health care team decide you're able to keep working during cancer treatment, it's important to figure out how you’re going to do it. You and your employer can work closely to make certain changes, such as offering a part-time schedule or restructuring your job. In addition, you can make it easier for yourself by doing the following:

  • Try to work from home if possible. It's a way to help manage your energy and take care of yourself.
  • Get help at home so there’s more time for work. Ask your family and friends to help out with daily chores and errands.
  • Keep your boss up to date on your schedule and how other changes are working.
  • Make a list of your usual work schedule and responsibilities. Refer to it when you're setting up flex time, shifted duties, or time off with your employer.
  • Create a list of job duties and who is covering for you, so your coworkers know what to do when you’re out of the office.

For more information on what options you can ask for and what your employer can do to help assist you while on treatment, visit the Job Accommodation Network or call them at 1-800-526-7234.

When it's too much to keep working with cancer

If you find that managing your treatment is making it too hard to work, there are options available from third-party organizations to help with paying your medical and nonmedical bills. These include:

  • The Hill-Burton Program
    This program allows hospitals and other medical facilities to offer free or low-cost services for people who are unable to pay. To find a Hill-Burton facility, or to get more information, visit the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
  • Social Security Disability Income
    If you have paid Social Security, you may be eligible for disability benefits. But keep in mind Social Security has very strict standards for what they consider a disability and, if you qualify, the waiting period could be up to 5 months or more. To learn more, visit www.ssa.gov/disability/.
  • Supplemental Security Income
    If you haven’t worked in a while or your income has been very low, an option may be Supplemental Security Income (SSI). What you can get from SSI is different from state to state. Your income must be below a certain amount, and you must also meet the Social Security Administration’s standards for disability. Visit www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html to learn more.

As you deal with your employment issues, it helps to be flexible and understand that as your needs change, so can your options with employment. Whether you are working or not, applying for disability benefits and other kinds of support can sometimes be challenging. Consider keeping your family in the loop about your concerns. The social worker at your treatment location can also help you with information about other resources.