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Looking after yourself

After a breast cancer diagnosis, everyone’s priorities are different. You may continue to work, take time off or give up work completely. There is no right or wrong, and your choice will be dependent on your circumstances. 

If I have learnt anything from this past three years it would be to ask for more help as no person is an island. No matter how independent you are, be kind to yourself and allow as much time as it takes to heal mentally, physically and emotionally.

Treatment and side effects

Side effects from breast cancer differ from person to person. It is important to talk to your employer about potential side effects from treatments like surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy so they can make the necessary adjustments for you. You may need time away from work to have treatment, to rest and recuperate physically and emotionally.

On your return to work, it’s likely you will need to adjust your working day to accommodate for fatigue and physical capability. Honest communication with your employer about your needs will help make this process easier.

'Chemo brain'

Chemotherapy can sometimes cause cognitive changes such as difficulty thinking clearly and problems with memory and attention. These side effects are often referred to as ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog’. These changes can last months or longer and can affect a person’s confidence at work and in social situations.

If you are experiencing ‘chemo brain’, you may like to speak with your doctor and develop some strategies to help you to feel more in control and confident including:

  • keeping lists
  • doing one or two tasks at a time
  • reducing distractions
  • planning and taking things slowly.

When choosing to adopt these strategies, speak with your employer so they are aware and can support you moving forward.

Metastatic breast cancer

If you have metastatic breast cancer, it is likely you will fluctuate from feeling well to feeling unwell. This is dependent on your treatment, the stage of the disease and how you feel physically and emotionally. It’s a good idea to speak with your employer about when you are likely to feel well enough to work and together you can arrange your work tasks accordingly.

I learned to know myself better, to set realistic goals and importantly, to reward myself for everything I achieve. I no longer take myself for granted, I appreciate anything I do because I know how difficult it all is.


Questions to ask your health professional

It’s important to discuss your workplace options with your breast care nurse or oncologist. Doing so will help you make an informed decision about how best to manage work and treatment. 

Some questions you can ask are:

  • How long will each treatment take?
  • Will I need to stay in hospital and, if so, for how long?
  • How do people typically feel during and after treatment?
  • Will I need time off to recover?
  • How can the side effects be reduced?
  • Will treatment affect the physical demands of my job?
  • Will I be able to concentrate, drive, and undertake shift work or travel?
  • Is there another treatment that works the same but with less interference with my work life?
  • Are there any options that could make working easier? For example, could I have my treatment at a hospital closer to my work?

Useful information

For further information, the following resources are available:

  • Order BCNA's free resource, My Journey Kit. It will help you understand your diagnosis and make decisions on your treatment and care.
  • If you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer you can order BCNA’s free resource, Hope & Hurdles.