After a diagnosis of cancer and concomitant treatments, returning to work is a significant milestone. Like all milestones, it can engender a myriad of feelings and experiences. Cancer survivors may need support to find ways to engage in their work in a meaningful way, implement healthy work practices, and manage stress that accompanies all workplaces. They may benefit from learning how to recognize when they are experiencing significant distress. They also may need further assessment for anxiety and depression, and for some, post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Some may be returning to a workplace that they have blamed or seen as having some responsibility for their illness. Others feel they must return because of retaining important health benefits. Others are afraid of more change at this point in their lives. While many look forward to returning to work, most experience at least some anxiety. They may be returning to new duties, new colleagues, changed work tasks and different organizational policies. Others may be taking on a new position with their employer, while some may have decided to change employers or start a new career.
Many cancer survivors experience a renewed sense of what is important to them in their life, and may see work in a different light. They want to reduce stress in their lives, and have time and energy for enjoyable and meaningful activities and relationships. This may mean learning to find a better work / life balance, and a change in work priorities.
Health care providers have a role in supporting survivors to help their return to work be as successful as possible. Although there is clear evidence that chronic stress has a negative impact on health, it is unclear to date what role stress plays in the development of cancer, or morbidity and mortality related to cancer 1. However, many people who have had a diagnosis of cancer believe that stress may have been a factor in “getting” cancer, and that stress may contribute to a recurrence of cancer. Stress also interferes with enjoyment of life, which is often a prime motivator for people who have had cancer to find ways to reduce and manage stress.
Health care providers also have a role in helping cancer survivors understand stress, reduce stress and develop strategies to manage stress. It is important for health care providers to assess for significant distress such as anxiety disorders or depression, and treat accordingly.