You may want to keep working for as long as you can because you love your job, or feel you have to because you need the money. You may give up work completely to do something you enjoy more, or because you feel too unwell. Everybody is different and there is no right or wrong in this situation.
I have had to adjust my working schedule and change my career aspirations, but have found fulfilment with the work I do. A lot less stress has helped my body to respond positively to treatment. It has also enabled me to enjoy my life and develop relationships more deeply and positively. – Wendy
Keep working unless you don’t like it or it is too stressful, because that is one way to maintain a social network. – Linda
If you want to work, do so. It helps mental wellbeing and keeps your mind busy with many other things. – Judith
If you remain at work, your employer may be able to help by reducing your hours or by adjusting your role.
It is important to keep in contact with your employer and to find out about your entitlements, including any paid and unpaid leave that may be available to you. Cancer Council Australia produces a free booklet, Cancer, Work & You, which includes some useful information and suggestions – for instance, that you should keep a diary of meetings, tasks, important conversations and any leave you have taken so that you have an accurate record in case you need to negotiate new or more flexible work arrangements.
Through my experience I think it is important for anyone coping with a chronic illness to know their employment rights from the beginning. My employer was fantastic until a change in management when my affairs were handled very surreptitiously. If I had my time again, I would like to have been counselled about my rights. I would have handled things differently. No one in my situation should have to go to Equal Opportunity to fight for their rights. Most would find this too daunting to even try. – Karen
Download Cancer Council's Cancer, Work & You booklet or you can order a hard copy by calling the Cancer Council Information and Support Line on 13 11 20
Most employers are supportive when an employee is diagnosed with breast cancer. However, if you are worried that yours may not be sympathetic or that you are in danger of losing your job or future opportunities in your workplace, you can talk to an adviser at the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman. The adviser can provide advice on your rights and your employer’s obligations, and also investigate any complaints. You can talk to an adviser online at the Fair Work Ombudsman, or in person by calling 13 13 94. The website also has useful information about the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers.
You may also consider talking to an employee representative or union representative in your workplace.
If you are self-employed, you might be able to ease your workload by asking a staff member to step up into your role temporarily, employing someone else and/or reducing your work hours.
If you are receiving a Centrelink payment and decide to return to work, you are required to tell Centrelink in case this has an impact on your payment.
Employment and returning to work
For many young women, work can be an important source of meaning, income and wellbeing. You may want to keep working for as long as you can because you enjoy your job or because it gives you financial security. Or you may want to give up work to concentrate on other things in life. Sometimes you may have to give up work because you are too unwell. Every person’s experiences and priorities are different.
I took 18 months leave from work. I wanted my hair to have grown before I went back. I also reduced my working hours to better suit me and my family. – Ellen
It has been hard to give up my career to focus on treatment. – Dani
Planning to return to work
If you are planning to return or stay at work, your employer can help you by making adjustments to your work duties, or changing your hours. Although it may sometimes feel uncomfortable to disclose a diagnosis, the benefit of telling your employer is that they can assist you in making any adjustments that are needed to help you. It is important to communicate regularly with your employer, and to agree on a return to work plan if you are returning after a period of leave. It is also important to find out about your entitlements and rights.
Support with discrimination and other workplace issues
Most employers are supportive when an employee is diagnosed with breast cancer. However, if you are worried that your employer is not understanding, or you are in danger of losing your job after disclosing your diagnosis, you can talk to an adviser at the office of Fair Work Ombudsman. They can provide advice on your rights and your employer’s obligations, and also investigate any complaints. You can talk to an adviser online at the Fair Work Ombudsman website or by calling 13 13 94.
- If you are experiencing workplace bullying or harassment, you may want to contact the Fair Work Commission, which deals with issues such as bullying and unfair dismissal. You can visit the Fair Work Commission website or call them on 1300 799 675.
- You may also consider talking to an employee representative or union representative in your workplace.
Cancer Council also has a program which provides free legal, financial and workplace advice to people affected by cancer who cannot afford to pay for advice. For more information see the Cancer Council website in your state or territory:
- Cancer Council Victoria
- Cancer Council New South Wales
- Cancer Council Queensland
- Cancer Council Tasmania
- Cancer Council Western Australia
- Cancer Council South Australia
- Cancer Council Northern Territory
Alternatively you can phone the Cancer Council Information and Support Line on 13 11 20.
- Establish a return to work plan with your employer and review it with them regularly.
- Look at options for flexible/part-time work arrangements.
- Notify employers in advance of any leave you may need to take.
- To assist with memory and concentration, take notes and use a calendar and diary regularly.
- Keep a diary of meetings, tasks, important conversations with your employer, and any leave you have taken.
- Some employers offer employee assistance programs. These programs provide short-term counselling and emotional support, free of charge for employees.
- BCNA's Helping a friend or colleague with breast cancer booklet contains a section particularly for the workplace that provides some helpful suggestions for managers and workplace colleagues.
- If you would like to talk to other BCNA members about their experience around employment and returning to work, you can chat to them via the Online Network.