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Chapter 5

Back to work

Planning your return

Unpack this topic

I realise how far I want to go and I follow my rhythm. Author unknown

Completing your cancer treatment often means getting into a new routine, which may include returning to work. Many things may have changed for you during your treatment, such as your priorities, your ambitions, or the way you would like to organize your life going forward. These things may affect how you feel about returning to work.

You may also have a lot of questions about taking this step:

  • How will I cope with a return to work?
  • Should I change my occupation?
  • How should I go about getting a new job?
  • When should I begin my job search?
  • How do I explain the gap in my work while I was in treatment?
  • Who can give me legal advice about my rights in the workplace?
  • Who can help me with this transition?

This chapter provides you with information and different points of view to consider about returning to work. There are also and tips and strategies if you are:

  • Returning to your old job.
  • Searching for a new job in your field or exploring other careers.
  • Considering going back to school or re-training.
  • Not able to return to work.

Section 1

Planning your return to work

You are going back to the job you had before your treatment, and perhaps you are looking forward to returning to this familiar part of your life. It is also normal that you might be worried about this step.

This section takes you through the kinds of things that you may want to think about when you are getting ready to return to work, including a gradual return to work if this is possible for you. Throughout this process, communication with your doctor and employer, as well as information—such as about insurance plans, your rights, planning a gradual return to work, and other relevant topics—are the keys to a successful return to working life.

Before I even started my leave of absence, I asked my employer to put me in touch with our insurance rep, who answered all my questions relating to leave, gradual and full return. I also requested that the insurance rep handle all communications with the doctors. This alleviated most of the pressure and unwanted stress, and allowed me to focus on my treatment and my healing. Constance, recovering patient, age 58


Communicating with your healthcare team

Share your return to work plan with your healthcare team. Discuss with the doctor that is treating you (this could be your oncologist or GP, for example) whether or not you feel ready to go back to work. Your doctor can help you understand what a return to work could involve for you, such as a changed work schedule or new tasks and different responsibilities. Your doctor can provide you with written recommendations for a back-to-work-plan that is best suited for you, and that can be presented to your employer. This may also involve a gradual return.

It is also important to maintain communication throughout this process with your healthcare team—your doctor(s), nurse, social worker or physiotherapist, for example. They will help you understand what treatment follow-up will look like for you, and how to be familiar with how your body feels. You may still be dealing with fatigue or other side effects that need to be considered. For more information, see Chapter 2: What to Expect After Treatment.

Your doctor will complete the insurance form and recommend when you can return to work—so let them know right away if you are not recovering according to your previously determined timeline. If you do go back to work and realize it was too soon, you may need to step back from working for a bit longer. Talk to your doctor who completed your insurance form, so that the necessary changes can be made with the insurance company.

When should you return to work? You return to work when you feel ready and when your doctor agrees with you about this step. Sometimes we push ourselves to get back into our daily routine as soon as possible. We want to forget about the cancer and move on. But sometimes we try to do this faster than our body is able. Listen to your doctor, listen to your nurses, listen to your body. They know whether or not you are ready to go back to work. Mei Lin Yee, patient rights advocate

Communicating with your employer

Maintaining a good relationship with your employer is helpful for everyone, especially for you! It will help you find solutions to work issues and develop the support you need in your job.

It is important to inform yourself of the possibilities available to you in your company in order to plan your return to work effectively. Find out about your company’s policies for employees returning from sick leave, and the type of support they offer. If you have disability insurance, confirm the process for a gradual return to work.

Before going back to work, make a list of the options that you think may be available to you in your company, taking into account how you feel mentally and physically. Think about how flexible your schedule can be, as you will need time for your medical appointments. Perhaps think about part-time and work from home possibilities as well. Once you know that you are going back to work and you feel ready, plan a meeting with your employer (human resources or department manager, depending on your company). This meeting could be done over the phone or face-to-face.

Communicating with colleagues about your absence

You are not obligated to give your employer information about your medical background (unless you are requesting reasonable accommodation) (see Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 1: Planning your return to work / Heading: Information about your rights). You also don’t have to discuss your medical information with your work colleagues. It is up to you if you want to discuss any part of your experience with anyone else. Feel comfortable with whatever you decide is best for you.

Before returning to work, you might want to think about if you will want to talk about your cancer with the people you work with, and how you might do this. Renewing ties with colleagues under these circumstances is not always easy. Some people do not know how to react to someone who has been ill, and they may feel uncomfortable. If possible, try to take the first step with your work colleagues to ease any awkwardness. Something simple, like smiling and saying ‘It’s so good to see you again’, may be all that you need to do to break the ice. If you are not sure what you will feel comfortable with, you can get advice from human resources at your company or from your healthcare team.

I kept in touch with what was going on in the company—this helped tremendously with my gradual return to work. I was very open (but positive) with my colleagues about my experience. It made me feel more comfortable around them; no rumours, no stories, only compassion and support. Constance, recovering patient, age 58

Information about your rights

Know that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your illness or any disability you may have, and they must provide reasonable accommodation to allow you to do your job. To reasonably accommodate an employee means to make certain changes for the employee that will not cost the company an unreasonable amount of money, or that will not be disruptive to the organization. Accommodations can include a change in work hours or in your responsibilities and tasks. In addition, accommodations can be modified according to your needs during this time. It is illegal for employers to deny health benefits, or to treat you differently than other employees in the workplace. See Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need for services that can help you find someone who can act on your behalf (an advocate) for your rights.

What is my employer required to do for me when I return to work? Your employer is required to accommodate any limitations you have (physical or psychological), if it is reasonable for your job. What that means is that your employer is required to meet these needs if it makes sense and is relatively easy to do. For example, if you normally work at a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time, but you could perform your duties from a chair or stool without risk, then they need to meet this accommodation. If you work in an office and some of the work you do could be done from home, then this would be a reasonable accommodation for days when you are experiencing fatigue, and must be met as well. However, an employer is not required to create a new position for you if the size of the company does not justify it. They are also not allowed to make accommodations that might cause a dangerous or hazardous work environment for you or other employees. Mei Lin Yee, patient rights advocate

Planning a gradual return to work—one step at a time

Make a plan

Sometimes it’s better to return to work slowly but surely, rather than overdoing it. If you take on more than you are ready to handle, the gradual return-to-work program might end lasting longer than you intended. A well-organized plan for gradual return to work can move you into your new routine at the pace that is right for you. It is best to not go too fast—the idea is to become stronger with each step that you take.

  • It is important to have a plan for your gradual return to work. Try to picture your routine as clearly as you can before you actually have to start doing it. You may have to make changes to your plan once you begin and that is fine. Your gradual return to work is a period of adjustment—the goal is to find the best way to incorporate work back into your life.
  • Make a list of as many things as you can think of that might affect your return to work. For example:

    • Perhaps your energy levels have changed—or you have more energy at different times of the day than before, such as in the morning or afternoon.
    • It may be helpful for you to reduce non-work responsibilities. For example, discuss re-organizing household chores with your family. It may be best for you to put work first for a while.
    • Maybe you have a long commute to work.
    • You may need to adjust where you work in the office and the layout of your workspace.
    • You may think it’s necessary to discuss part-time, flex-time, or working from home with your employer.
  • If you need to return to work full time right away or sooner than expected, for financial or other reasons, talk to your employer about any limitations you feel need to be accommodated. Accommodations that may help you include: job modifications (changing tasks), job re-design (organising tasks differently), ergonomic changes (workstation adjustments), assistive devices (voice-assisted software), and modified location and schedule.

Be honest with yourself

Listen to your body to avoid burn out. Take into account any physical or mental fatigue that you may be experiencing. Think about saving part of your energy for leisure and relaxing activities. Cognitive changes can be a particular challenge when thinking about returning to work. Cognitive changes could involve new difficulties with attention, memory, problem solving and language (having difficulty finding words to express yourself). You can include a strategy to improve your cognitive skill in your back to work plan. For more information, go to Chapter 2: What to expect after treatment / Section 4: Coping with cognitive changes.

Go at your own pace

Working can be an important part of your recovery because of the social and human experiences that are a natural part of the work day. However, it is better to feel comfortable with the idea of getting back to your working life than to return before you feel ready. You could start by attending workshops or seminars related to your field. These kinds of activities can keep you in the loop and help you get back into your professional environment. When you do return to work, it may be helpful to plan regular meetings with your employer to discuss both the positive and more challenging aspects of your progress.

Don’t forget that your first job is to recover! With the right support and information, your return to work will be a positive experience and an important step in your recovery.

Your doctor may speak to you about going back to work before you feel ready. Do not worry about this. Instead, try to identify what you would need for a successful return. For example, if you are experiencing fatigue, you could plan to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into your daily routine to help you regain the energy that you need for work. Or you may feel that you need help with feelings of stress or anxiety. Know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you with your back-to-work process. Maria Milioto, physiotherapist

Steps for a gradual return to work

Taking the time to answer the questions below can help you understand your current abilities and challenges, so that you can decide if you are ready to go back to work. This list is not complete—you may be able to think of other questions that are important to you as well. It may be helpful to share this list with your doctor.

Evaluate your job:*

  1. What do you do during a typical day at work?

    • Rank these duties or activities in order of importance and mark if they are absolutely necessary for your job.
  2. What are the physical demands required of your job?

    • Do you have to lift heavy items?
    • Do you need to handle small items, or frequently reach for things?
    • Is it important to be able to feel well with your hands in your work (some people have numbness in their fingers after chemotherapy)?
    • Are you required to have good vision? Do you have to sit or stand for long periods of time?
    • Does your job involve climbing, bending or kneeling?
  3. What are the types of personality required for your duties?

    • Do you need to be organized or a good leader, for example. The kinds of duties to consider when answering this include: planning, supervising, flexibility (changing tasks often), repetitive work, motivating others, creativity, working alone, performing under stress, decision making, working with others, working with specific or detailed instructions.
  4. What are the psychological and cognitive demands of your work?

    • Are you required to have good verbal and communication skills?
    • Do you have to deal with emotional or confrontational situations?
    • Do you need to work on many things at the same time?
    • Do you have a lot of deadlines and often have to work under pressure?
    • Does your work require a lot of attention to detail?
  5. What are the environmental conditions of your workplace?

    • Is there a lot of noise or is it often too hot or too cold?
    • Are any of your duties, or the area where you work, considered to be dangerous in any way?
* Parkinson, Maureen. “Cancer and Returning to Work: A Practical Guide for Cancer Patients”. For more details, see bibliography.

Top tips

  • Make a plan. Identify with your healthcare team what your challenges are likely to be, and find out what types of services are available for your needs, such as:

    • Counselling
    • Cognitive skills training
    • Anxiety/stress management
    • Sleep clinic/sleep management
  • Schedule a meeting with your employer/supervisor for an update on current work plans, situations, workload, etc.
  • Sleep well, eat healthy and try to relax every day.

Section 2

Looking for a new job

Returning to work can also mean looking for a new job. Perhaps you have reviewed your current situation or your priorities since completing your cancer treatment, and have found that the best way forward for you would be to find a new job—one that will better meet your current needs and expectations. Being informed, making a plan, and setting goals for your job search are positive steps that you can take to gain confidence, particularly if it has been a while since you have had to look for a job. You will find tips and strategies on the following pages to help you move forward with your job search.

Focus on what’s important to you

Understanding who you are now, and what matters to you most, can help you shape your job search to meet your needs and objectives. This will ultimately help you find the job that is right for you. There are many things to consider that will help you figure out your job search objectives and set realistic expectations. Some of these include:

  • Identify your personal and professional strengths and interests.
  • Review your previous jobs to see what you enjoyed and what was missing.
  • Think about how you and your skills would benefit a company.
  • Consider the type of working environment that would be appropriate for your physical and emotional wellbeing at this time.
  • Think about if your skills and interests make you more of a specialist (e.g., writer) or a generalist (e.g., an office administrator).

More opportunities, new horizons

Job hunting often involves exploring new horizons, such as learning something new related to your field, maintaining or updating your technological skills, meeting new people during professional situations or events, or networking in new places (see Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 3: The CV and cover letter, networking and interviews / Heading: Network!).

Depending on your reasons for looking for a new job, you may choose to:

Think outside of the box! You do not need to focus only on traditional jobs. Through research, speaking with friends and networking with colleagues, you can learn about new professional fields that could be a better fit for you.

Today, more than ever, there are many technological tools available to help you with your job search. Technology is a big part of job hunting, and it also allows you to network and reach out to more potential employers and key contact persons. Job hunting also still requires the traditional tools, such as a CV (also called a resumé) and a cover letter. Find out more about this topic in Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 3: The CV and cover letter, networking and interviews.

Your job search is a job!

When you are looking for a job, it can be helpful to create a realistic schedule that is suited to your current abilities and to the time you have available. Try to organize your time so that you can give your job search enough attention to move forward effectively. Setting realistic goals and expectations will allow you to continue to see results. For example, you can set a goal to send a certain number of applications every day, or to add a certain number of people to your LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) profile every week.

Using technology to create an online presence can be an advantage in your job search. A good online professional profile—such as on LinkedIn—will give you more visibility, and make it easy for potential employers to find you. LinkedIn provides guidelines to help you develop a professional and eye-catching profile. LinkedIn also gives you access to extensive job listings.

You are also recovering during this time, so it is important to also take care of yourself. Try to include activities in your routine that are not work related, such as relaxation, exercise, walking, yoga, or a hobby.

Section 3

The CV and cover letter, networking and interviews

Once you have set your career goals and priorities, you will have a better idea of how you want to move forward. This section covers general tips and strategies about the job search process. It also answers some common questions people have when they are re-entering the work force after completing treatment. You may also want to get advice from professionals colleagues, as well as others who have been through a similar experience. See Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need for resources.

One thing you may want to think about is how you will incorporate your cancer experience into your work life. You are not legally obligated to provide information about your medical background unless you know that you will be requesting reasonable accommodation. For more on legal rights, see Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need / Heading: Legal. Also, only your employer is entitled to this information, not your work colleagues. It is up to you if you want to discuss any part of your experience with anyone else. However, you should prepare yourself to be asked questions by potential employers about the gap in your work life.

Your new CV: What it should say about you

To make a positive impression, your CV (or resumé) must be understood quickly by the reader. Organize all of your information as clearly and briefly as possible. Keep in mind that the goal of your CV is to get you the interview, not the job!

Your CV should be no longer than 2 pages. This includes:

  • Work experience (usually just the last 10 to 15 years).
  • Education and professional development (university, certificates, courses, etc.).
  • Activities and outside interests (volunteering, community work, etc.).
  • Anything else that highlights your skills.

If you find that your CV is longer than 2 pages, remove anything that is not absolutely necessary and list only your most recent jobs.

Chronological CV

A chronological format for your CV is appropriate if your work gap is less than a year. It is not uncommon for people to have to deal with long periods of unemployment or semi-employment, especially in today’s economic climate. Those who look for a job after cancer treatment can apply similar strategies when writing their CV. In a chronological CV, your jobs and education are listed beginning with the most recent:

Years (e.g., 2016): job title
   • Description of responsibilities in bullet form.

Years (e.g., 2014-2015): job title
   • Description of responsibilities in bullet form.

Functional CV

If you have been off work for more than a year, a functional CV format may be preferable. In this format, you highlight your skills instead of listing your experience chronologically. List your skills at the beginning of your CV along with a few achievements that support these strengths. Then list your professional experience, detailing the jobs you have held, the companies you worked for, and your years of service. You can include other activities (for example, volunteering) that have given you relevant job skills—such as staff management, event planning, etc.—under a separate heading entitled ‘Additional Skills’ or ‘Additional Work Experience’. A functional CV may work better to address the gap in your work when you were in treatment.

Skill set number 1 (e.g., communications)
   • Description of the details or achievements supporting the skill.

Skill set number 2 (e.g., administration)
   • Description of the details or achievements supporting the skill.

There are many websites that can help you put a CV together, such as:

Cover letter

Remember that the purpose of the cover letter is to interest the prospective employer enough to give you an interview. In your letter, focus on the job that you are applying for and highlight your most relevant skills. You are not obligated to provide your medical information. You can decide if, or what, you will let them know about your medical history after this step is successful. Your cancer experience is strictly confidential; you do not have to mention it in your application.


Networking is another way to explore job possibilities. It can open doors and introduce you to helpful professional contacts. Many jobs are found through professional connections or recommendations.

Don’t hesitate to use networking opportunities and events to find out more about career fields and talk to people about what is going on in industries that interest you. Many organizations, community centres, bars and restaurants host popular ‘5 à 7’ networking events throughout the year. Google professional networking events, and check your local chamber of commerce, board of trade, or MeetUp chapter (www.meetup.com), to see what’s going on in your area.

After each networking session, don’t forget to follow up with your new contacts. Try to interact on a regular basis with all the contacts that might be able to help you move forward in your job search.

If you don’t feel comfortable meeting people right away, networking can also be done online. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a popular and powerful professional online networking platform with people looking for jobs and with recruiters. LinkedIn makes it easy to connect with new people, get back in touch with colleagues, respond to job offers, and interact with other professionals. Recruiters also now often use social media to screen applicants, so be careful with your digital reputation.

The interview

During an interview with a potential employer, you will find out more about the company and the position you’ve applied for. You will have the opportunity to talk about your skills and abilities in person.

Prepare yourself for the classic interview questions. Practice by doing mock interviews with family, friends, a social worker or counsellor. A few tips to keep in mind during an interview:

  • Make sure you clearly understand what the interviewer is asking you. Ask questions if necessary.
  • Communicate your value and potential by providing specific examples of how you used your skills to achieve results in your previous job(s).
  • Prepare a couple of questions for the interviewer to show your interest. Look at the company’s website before the interview – you will be able to show that you are familiar with the company beyond the job you are applying for.

After the interview, send the interviewer a thank you note by email and follow up after a few weeks.

If you decide you want to speak to potential employers about your diagnosis—or need to because reasonable accommodations will have to be made—experts recommend timing this discussion at the point in the process when you feel the employer is seriously considering hiring you. Another option would be to wait until you receive an offer. Then have this conversation when you are negotiating salary, benefits, etc. It may also be useful to provide a letter from your doctor explaining your health status and confirming your ability to perform your work duties.

  • If you experienced physical changes during your cancer treatment that are still visible, it is important for you to know that the potential employer is not allowed to ask you questions about your health. They can only ask about your abilities to complete the tasks that are required for the job.
  • If you do need to discuss reasonable accommodation with an employer because of your current health situation, know that they are not allowed to ask for your medical record. It is up to you what you decide to share (or not) about your medical history.

Coping with your cancer diagnosis and treatment was an experience unique to you. The way you wish to speak about it, and how much you feel comfortable telling people, is completely up to you. You are not legally required to do so. Some people may feel that they have become stronger and have even acquired new skills during this time. Others may feel that their illness and recovery do not define them at all and don’t want it to be part of the discussion. A career counsellor may be able to help you find the best way to address the gaps in your work history. See Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need for resources.

Personal make-over and interview preparation services are available from different organizations to help you get ready to get back into work life. They can help you decide if you want to try new styles or looks for interviews or networking events.

Section 4

Career change: Finding the right job

Sometimes an experience with cancer can lead a person to question their purpose in life, or question how they want to spend the rest of their life. You are not necessarily the same person you were before your diagnosis. What seems important to you now can also prompt a desire for a career change.

It is not always easy to find the kind of job that will fit your personality and ambitions, or that will fit with your current financial situation. In your search for your dream job, you also have to make sure that you are balancing what is important to you with the realities of life—such as the flexibility you may need for your medical appointments.

What is important for you at work?

After treatment, it is not uncommon for people to want to bring more sense and meaning to their working life. There are several ways to find work that really speaks to you. To help you figure this out, try making a list of the pros and cons of your previous or current job, keeping in mind these questions: What was positive about your position and the company you worked for? What would be negative for you now? What was missing in your work?

Another way to try and figure out how to find meaningful work is to think about your priorities. These may include:

  • Your financial situation.
  • A particular industry you want to work in.
  • Values you want to incorporate into the kind of work you do.
  • A field of expertise you want to explore.
  • A passion you’d like to pursue.
  • An innovation that interests you.
  • Acquiring new knowledge or skills that could translate to a new job.

What are your skills, abilities and strengths?

To begin a new career or a new kind of job, you have to know your skills and abilities. Take some time to think about what these are, and how you would like to apply them in a new career—or in creating a new career. Even if your dream job seems a long way from what you are good at, you can still train (online, university, community centre, etc.) to acquire more knowledge in your chosen new field.

Learning through volunteering can also be an interesting approach, although you won’t get paid. For example, you may be interested in giving your time to support groups for people who are in the middle of their cancer treatment. (If this interests you, ask for information at the oncology department in your hospital.) If you are currently covered by insurance (short-term disability, for example), check with your insurance company before committing to volunteering. Some insurance companies consider volunteer work as work!

How about flexible work or freelancing?

After your cancer treatment, you might not feel ready to get back to a full-time, 9 to 5 schedule. There are many possibilities to create new opportunities for work arrangements in today’s marketplace. But it is also important for you to understand the practical things that you need to get from your work, such as a salary, benefits, and a pension. Some people have more flexibility than others about these items.

  • Part-time work will lighten your schedule and reduce the amount of time you have to spend at work. Make sure that you confirm with your employer when you begin a part-time job that it is not going to turn into full-time work, if this is not something you are interested in.
  • Self-employment or contract work gives you more flexibility in managing your time. You may choose to provide services for a specific project or for a fixed period of time, depending on your preferences and the availability of this kind of work.
  • In some cases, contract work involves working on-site (where the business is located), and in others it is possible to work from home. Think about the sort of arrangement that would suit you best. Many organizations have created co-working spaces or shared offices where contract people can work, which offers the benefit of regular contact with other professionals. This is a good option for those who would feel isolated or distracted if they were working at home.
  • Try to avoid stressful contracts or environments that may be too demanding as you are getting back to work.
  • It is also a good idea to understand the tax implications of self-employment before getting started with this option.

Resources to help you get started


Questionnaire for career orientation:

Apps for smartphone and tablets:

  • Jobboom
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Jobbank

Top tips

  • Stay in the loop. Network and stay in touch with professionals who will be able to help you move forward with your goals.
  • Find peer support. Talk to people who have experience with work situations that you are interested in, such as self-employment, working from home, or part-time work. They can give you a sneak peek of what you can expect.
  • Talk to a professional. Career counsellors can help you at any time during this process. Go to Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need for more information.

Section 5

What if you can no longer work?

Cancer can affect your ability to work—and perhaps, therefore, your financial situation—even after your treatment is finished. It can be difficult if your health does not allow you to go back to work. It can also be difficult if you have decided not to return to work—you may experience a lot of stress, anxiety and frustration as a result. It is important to get support if this is a situation that you are going through, and to know that you have options.

Consider consulting a financial advisor or planner to fully understand your financial reality. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to receive help from the government, such as a disability pension (see Chapter 5: Back to Work / Section 6: Services and organizations: Help you might need for more information). In the meantime, it may be helpful for you to get a realistic picture of your situation by setting up a budget that lists all of your income and expenses. Ignoring these problems won’t make them go away.

Once you are home and getting back to everyday life and into a routine, you may find that the effects of cancer treatment—such as fatigue, lack of energy, difficulty carrying out simple physical activities—mean that you have to consider home care or moving. Insurance may also cost more to cover certain services. All of this can add to a challenging financial situation. It may be useful to contact a financial advisor, or talk to a social worker at your cancer centre, to get advice about your options.

Life after work

It is important to remember that not working does not mean you can’t be active. Many of the activities that you were doing before may still be possible for you. If work was a big part of your life, giving this up can be very frustrating. But don’t let it stop you from getting the most out of life in other ways. You may now also have an opportunity to pursue interests that you never had time for before, or to explore new activities. For example, some people decide to mark the end of their treatment, and the beginning of the next phase of their life, by doing some travelling when they’ve regained function and energy.

Section 6

Services and organizations: Help you might need

There are many services and organizations that can provide you with the information and help you may need, depending on your situation. Below are some of the different categories of resources available for work-related issues, in general and in some of the provinces. Use this as a guideline to search for more information you may need, or for resources available in your particular area. Depending on the topic, some of the regional sites have general information and tips that would be helpful for anyone.

  • The Cancer and Work website (www.cancerandwork.ca) provides information, resources and interactive tools to address the needs of Canadians completing cancer treatment who are returning to work, remaining at work, changing work or looking for work. The website also includes resources for healthcare providers and employers.

Your medical background and your rights

As you prepare to return to work, and take the necessary steps to do so, you should make sure that you are not discriminated against at any time or for any reason.

A potential employer is not allowed to ask you about your health status at any point during the job application process, unless it is an essential component of, and directly related to, the position you are applying for (being able to carry heavy items, athletic abilities for sports-related jobs, etc.). Therefore, you are not required to mention or discuss in any way the fact that you received cancer treatment to a new employer, except if it could directly affect your ability to do your job.

You can discuss reasonable accommodation with your employer even after you have been hired. An employer cannot under any circumstances refuse to hire you because of your cancer diagnosis.

  • The Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca) has a community services locator to help you find resources you need in your region, including financial, legal and work-related issues. Call 1-888-939-3333 to talk to an information specialist.


When you have been hired for a job, the employer has to treat you the same as the other employees. If required, you have the right to request accommodations within reason to take into account your new needs after your cancer treatment. If you think you are being discriminated against, or to handle discrimination in the workplace, you may want to get professional legal advice.


  • Commission des services juridiques–Gouvernement du Québec: www.csj.qc.ca/commission-des-services-juridiques/accueil.aspx?lang=en. The Commission provides information about a variety of legal issues, including legal aid.
  • Au Bas de l’Ēchelle: www.aubasdelechelle.ca/english-version.html. This organization offers information meetings and a free and confidential information hotline service to inform non-unionized workers of their labour rights regarding items such as dismissal and psychological harassment.
  • Hope and Cope: hopeandcope.ca. Offers professional assessment and referrals for patients seeking legal and administrative advice .
  • Barreau du Québec: www.barreau.qc.ca/en. Provides information on labour lawyers and lawyers specializing in insurance lawsuits.



British Columbia/Vancouver


Whether you have a private disability insurance or insurance through your employer, you should inform yourself about the policies, terms and conditions of your coverage. You may wish to speak with an insurance agent or your company’s human resources department.

Types of insurance:

In the event that you need help resolving an insurance dispute or complaint, contact OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance: www.olhi.ca.

Long-term disability

Check with your private insurance company or your employer to find out if you can benefit from a long-term disability coverage. Another be through the Canada Pension Plan (CCP) and/or the Quebec Disability Pension if you live in Quebec.

Rehabilitation services

You may be coping with physical and/or cognitive changes during the time that you are planning your return to work. Talk to your medical team about possible referrals to specialists that you may need. There are rehabilitation programs available through referral by an oncologist, and also occupational therapists in the private sector who specialize in working with people who are going back to work after an illness like cancer. Find more information about these services in the chapter on regaining function Chapter 4: Regaining Function / Section 5: On your way to recovery / Heading: Wellness and physical activity programs, and services.


Financial planners or account managers at your bank can help you plan your budget. See also Chapter 6: Family caregiver support / Section 3: Taking care of yourself as a caregiver / Heading: The Impact of caregiving, for a list of financial planning resources. The social worker at your cancer centre may also be able to help you find out about financial assistance programs, income tax credits, and government benefits that are available, according to your own situation.

  • The Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca) lists resources for financial support by region. Call 1-888-939-3333 to talk to an information specialist.

Work orientation

  • The Canadian Cancer Society www.cancer.ca has a community services locator to help you find resources you need in your region. Call 1-888-939-3333 to talk to an information specialist.
  • Canada Career Counseling: canadacareercounselling.com. Offers confidential help from counsellors, advisors and psychologists in regard to career counselling, career and academic advising and professional development workshops.


  • Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d’orientation du Québec: www.orientation.qc.ca (website in French only). The site includes a list of accredited, private practice vocational guidance and career counsellors (English and French speaking). The Order also offers information about where to find job and career counseling services or skills training in the community at www.orientation.qc.ca/services-publics-dorientation (website in French only).


  • Employment Ontario: www.ontario.ca/page/employment-ontario. Workers and job seekers can make a free appointment to speak with an employment counsellor to help develop career goals, prepare for interviews or start a job (www.eoss.tcu.gov.on.ca/CitizenPortal/infoAboutYou.do). Information is provided on finding courses to prepare for new work, to build skills or receive training. There is also a list of government services available for assistance and support programs.


  • Employment Services Alberta: www.alberta.ca/employment-services.aspx. Provides programs, services and online resources (alis.alberta.ca/plan-your-career) to help with career planning, training options, researching education, and looking for employment and adapting to the changing labor market. Resources available include a list of community agencies (Alberta Supports and Alberta Work Centers) across the province that offer job postings, job search library, job training information, employment counselling, computers and photocopiers for job searches and resumé, job-interview and job-search workshops.

British Columbia/Vancouver

  • WorkBC: www.workbc.ca. Offers help in career planning, programs on skills training and finding employment. Provides job listings across the province, a Career Toolkit to assist in finding the right career path, and a listing of local community sites (WorkBC Centers) offering a range of services and support. There is also a program for mature workers on how to market abilities and skills and job search techniques.

Additional resources

Going back to work


  • Quebec Cancer Foundation: www.fqc.qc.ca/en. The librarian at the Quebec Cancer Foundation can help you search for literature related to going back to work after cancer.



British Columbia/Vancouver

Peer support services




British Columbia/Vancouver