Returning to work after Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Ease your transition back to work by giving some thought to what you want to share and with whom.

Returning to work after your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment might feel good, bringing with it a renewed sense of normalcy or purpose and a boost to your confidence. It might also cause anxiety, as you wonder about how people will react to your experience and how it may affect your work.

It can help to talk through concerns with your doctor, a social worker and your employer ahead of time. You may also find it helpful to plan ahead about what you'll share about your experiences and with whom.

Talk with your doctor and employer

As you start thinking about returning to work, talk with your doctor about what type of work you do and any questions or concerns you have about your ability to work. If you have questions about employment, ask your health care provider to refer you to a social worker. A social worker can give you workplace information. In the U.S., if you believe that your physical function is temporarily or permanently affected by your cancer or its treatment, you should know about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Cancer survivors who return to work are due any reasonable change or adjustment in their work environment that allows a person with a disability to have equal opportunities. A social worker can help you look at your situation and the ADA.

If you think you might need to make some adjustments, consider talking with your employer about what options you have, such as flextime, a work-from-home arrangement or special equipment. Be aware of fatigue especially in the midafternoons.

Consider what information you want to share

What and how much you share about your condition and experiences with your co-workers is entirely up to you.

While you're away for treatment, people will naturally worry about you. You might find it helpful to communicate general updates on your treatment, plans and how you're doing before you return to work. This can decrease your co-workers' anxiety and ease your return to the workplace. If you're not up for providing your colleagues with updates, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to do this for you.

As you consider what you want to share, it can also help to ask yourself some questions:

  • What's the work environment like? How comfortable are you with your co-workers? And what's the general work environment or culture like? For example, do you work in a highly competitive workplace or prefer not to focus on your cancer at work? If so, you may want to share limited details and only with certain people. Or perhaps you'll want to be very open with details with many people, so you can set expectations and correct any misgivings people might have.
  • How might co-workers react? Some colleagues may be very understanding. Others may worry about your ability to get your work done. Some people may not know what to say to you. Others might avoid you or appear uneasy around you as they worry about saying the wrong thing or deal with their own fears or memories your experience brings up for them. As you think about what you want to share, give some thought to how you'll respond to different reactions people may have. To ease the transition, consider asking a trusted colleague or supervisor to help guide others on how you want to be treated when you return. Set clear guidelines about what you can do.

When you go back to work and how you do so should ultimately be unique to you. There's no right or wrong way. As you transition from treatment, try to be patient with yourself and others, share your concerns when need be, and do what's right for you.

June 26, 2018 See more In-depth