2020 was a year that saw a lot of people losing their jobs due to business closings or employees being furloughed for a period of time. As a cancer patient, losing benefits (especially health insurance) is not only scary but can also be life threatening, even if only for a short period of time.
Going to work or back to work during myeloma treatment can be a daunting task. You may find that work is necessary in order to keep insurance benefits or you may find working makes things feel a bit more normal.
Let's look at some tactics you can employ with your doctor and your employer to ensure you are ready to transition back to work as seamlessly as possible.
If you plan to work while doing treatment, make sure you understand the risk if any. Talk to your doctor to get a plan in case work becomes too much or if you need to scale down for a bit of time before returning to your normal schedule. After you get this information, call your human resources department and discuss with them options they may have to accommodate your return. They may have flex-time, job sharing, or work from home. These options may ease your mind and body back into the demands of your job. Letting your employer and coworkers know ahead of time about treatments may be a benefit. If you take chemo treatments and find you have chemo-brain, you may want to seek out and use additional support.
Tips to Consider
Returning to work during cancer treatment is different for everyone. Your attitude toward working, your overall health, and your work environment will all be factors in your decision. Some of these factors you cannot control, such as reactions of your co-workers. There are things however you can do to help manage your time and work.
- Plan chemo treatments late in the day or right before the weekend to give you some time to recoup.
- Explore flex work options for some days.
- Ask friends and family to help at home with daily chores so you can spend time recovering from treatment.
- Unless it is a detriment to you, let your co-workers know about your situation. You may find them to be great sources of support.
- Keep a detailed list of your job duties and responsibilities that you can hand off to others if you need time off.
- Keep your supervisor apprised of how your schedule changes are working for you.
You Have Rights
There are laws that protect your employment during periods of illness. Know your rights under the American with Disabilities Act as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act.
In some cases, employers must accommodate a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can show it would be an undue hardship to do so. This could mean making changes to work schedules, equipment, or policies. You can find out more about employment and people with limitations from the Job Accommodations Network.
Finally, remember it is very important to find out about your rights and your current and ongoing treatment before you talk to your employer. Find out how short-term and or long term disability benefits you have with your employer are used against vacation and or other paid days off. Really dig into your health insurance and finances to see how they may be affected by the decisions you make. You may find it necessary to apply for social security benefits to ensure ongoing income. It is equally important to talk to your hospital or care centers about reducing medical bills and or making payment arrangements.
Take inventory daily. Be deliberately mindful of your physical and mental health.
- Don’t be in a rush to return to work if you don’t have to. Going in too early when you're not physically or mentally able to keep up and maintain your normal pace can set you back.
- Don’t be hard on yourself if you have bad days. Bad days happen to everybody.
- Always remember “The Big Picture”
- Take care of yourself first.
If you have questions about returning to work, short/long term disability, navigating Medicare/Medicaid, private insurance or any other financial questions- consider workout with a Myeloma Coach. Coaches are myeloma patients or caregivers who offer a wide variety of experience and can share what they have learned on their own myeloma journey. Visit our website to learn more: www.myelomacoach.org.
Diahanna Vallentine, BCPA
about the author
Diahanna is the Financial Program Manager for the HealthTree Foundation. She specializes in providing financial help, resources and education for multiple myeloma patients. As a professional financial consultant and former caregiver of her husband who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Diahanna perfectly understands the financial issues facing myeloma patients.