Language / La langue: 
You are here:   Cancer and Work

Survivors Returning to work / staying at work Communicate about return to work

Communicate about return to work

Ms. Maureen Parkinson, Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor, M.Ed. C.C.R.C, BC Cancer

Ms. Maureen Parkinson is the province-wide vocational rehabilitation counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency. She has also been vocational rehabilitation counsellor at a public rehabilitation hospital and vocational rehabilitation consultant to insurance companies and the court system. She has instructed and facilitated Service-Canada-funded programs on job searching and career exploration. Ms. Parkinson has a Masters in Counselling Psychology, is a Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counsellor, and completed the Certified Return to Work Coordinator Program through the National Institute for Disability Management and Research. She has developed return-to-work and job-search seminars for cancer patients and created the guidebook “Cancer and Returning to Work: A Practical Guide for Cancer Patients” as well as on-line articles about returning to work and school. She also co-authored a paper commissioned by the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, “Cancer and Work: A Canadian Perspective”.

View all Cancer and Work team members

Dr. Christine Maheu, RN, PhD

Dr. Christine Maheu is an Associate Professor in the Ingram School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. Dr. Maheu is also an Affiliate Scientist at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto. At McGill University, she teaches research methods, supervises graduate students (masters, doctoral, post-doctoral), mentors practicing nurses and students in research, and conducts research in English and French. She has held research awards with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. These awards funded her research in psychosocial oncology, which focuses on developing and testing psychosocial interventions or measurements tools for various cancer populations. Additionally, in partnership with Ipsos Canada and funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, she is co-leading a nationwide survey of the needs of cancer patients for transition care from the end of their treatment to three years after their diagnosis. Dr. Maheu received awards for excellence in nursing research (2013, 2015, 2016) from Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology, and the Quebec Association of Nurses in Oncology.

View all Cancer and Work team members


Communicating early and often about return to work with healthcare providers, employers and insurance providers will help ensure your concerns are addressed and ensure a smooth transition back to work.

Communicating factors that can impact your return to work (Step 1) your challenges in function (Step 2) with the respect to your job demands (Step 3) with your health care providers can give them a comprehensive understanding of your situation and concerns. It may be helpful to ask your healthcare provider on how your cancer and its treatment will affect your work abilities, to help decide whether you can stay or return to work, or the need to look at alternative work, or apply for disability or sick leave (if these are available), or stop working. For ideas on questions that need to be addressed, see communicating with healthcare workers. Discussing work-related abilities and concerns also provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to initiate and discuss interventions to improve work readiness (See step 4).

In many cases, employers and disability insurance providers rely on physicians to provide opinions on whether a survivor can presently work, whether they should stay on benefits (if available) when or if they can return to work, and any restrictions and limitations that will need to be accommodated. Oncologists are also often called upon by employers and disability insurers to give their opinion on a patient’s current work abilities because of their clinical experience with specific cancer treatments. This is especially the case when treatments have changed and there is no research yet to inform how it may impact work-related functions. Often when survivors finish treatment, insurance case managers will call them more often to assess readiness for return to work. For more information on how to better communicate with insurance providers, see the Cancer and Work section on Communicating with insurance providers.

There may be expectations and advantages to communicating with your workplace during your diagnosis, treatment, and during your planning for return to work. This open communication can give the employer time to arrange for support at the workplace to improve your success with returning and staying at work safely. For more information, see the Cancer and Work section on Communication with employers.

Next step:

Step 1: Understand factors that can impact work

Back to the list of return to work preparation steps