recovering from breast cancer
Supporting and reintegrating staff into the workplace as they recover from breast cancer
It is estimated that 600,000 people are currently alive in the UK having been diagnosed with breast cancer. 13% of women said they could no longer carry out their job due to long-term effects caused by their breast cancer diagnosis. To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Addie Mitchell, Clinical Nurse Specialist at UK charity, Breast Cancer Now, spoke to SHP about how employers can support staff, following diagnosis.
Addie Mitchell, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Breast Cancer Now
“Around 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. Breast cancer survival is improving, having doubled in the last 40 years in the UK due to a combination of improvements in treatment and care, earlier detection through screening and a focus on targets, including faster diagnosis.
“For the majority of people, the impact of breast cancer doesn’t stop when hospital treatment ends and the long-term effects of diagnosis and treatment, like fatigue, pain and mental health problems, can have a severe impact on daily life, including work. We often hear from women on our Helpline who have had to reduce their working hours and how much they take on after breast cancer, which can affect career progression and pay, while some are not able to continue working in their profession at all.
“In 2018, Breast Cancer Now conducted a survey with over 2,800 women with primary breast cancer in England, and more than one in 10 (13%) women said they can no longer carry out their job due to long-term effects caused by their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and 16% chose to retire early because of the long-term effects of breast cancer.
“If a staff member has been diagnosed with breast cancer, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help them continue to work, return to work, have time off for medical appointments or for continued treatment and recovery. The employee’s breast cancer treatment team can also help share some recommended adjustments if needed.
“There’s no right or wrong time to return to work after breast cancer. For some, returning to work can feel like a positive step forward by regaining some normality, while for many it can be really challenging due to the long-term side effects.
“A return to work might look very different for many right now, with government guidance recommending people work from home where possible, during the coronavirus pandemic. While this can bring some benefits of reducing potentially tiring commutes and making it easier to have breaks to rest during the day, adjusting to working hours can still be a challenge. If someone has time off or reduced working hours during their breast cancer treatment, a phased return to work or flexible hours can help them to gradually adjust to the normal working pattern, especially if they are trying to manage fatigue.
“Many people will feel anxious about returning to work after cancer and drawing up a realistic plan collaboratively can help. Also, if individuals are working remotely, ensuring time for catch-ups on their return and having support networks in place is also so important.
“Decisions around returning to work may also be influenced by what the job involves and an individual’s financial situation. Some choose to stop working after breast cancer, often for health reasons or because they’ve reassessed their priorities. But giving up work will mean losing any work-related benefits. So, it’s important that people seek independent employment advice before making a decision.”
Being there for friend or colleague after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
“Although many women want to carry on with everyday life after a diagnosis, side effects from treatment mean this isn’t always possible and your friend or colleague may need support. However, asking for help or even knowing what to ask for can be hard.
“So, rather than asking them ‘what can I do for you?’, try offering specific support, like cooking meals, helping with housework, collecting the children from school or giving them lifts to hospital appointments. Anything to make life that bit easier will likely be appreciated. Also, having someone there to listen as they process their diagnosis can really help.
“Many people with breast cancer find it upsetting when friends and family think they’re ‘back to normal’ after hospital treatment finishes, so your friend will appreciate you remembering that they may still be coping with treatment side effects, worrying about the cancer returning or be experiencing a loss of body confidence. Being there for them months or even years down the line will really help in their recovery.”
Breast cancer in men
“While breast cancer in men is much rarer than the disease in women, it is vital men are aware of the signs and symptoms, and know what to do should they notice a change, as the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the more successful treatment is likely to be.
“We know that men may feel embarrassed about discussing their diagnosis, and often feel isolated if they do not know any other men in the same situation. That’s where our Someone Like Me service can help, by putting men who have been diagnosed in touch with another man who has also had breast cancer.
“It’s crucial we do more to fully understand what causes breast cancer in men, how it differs from the disease in women and how best to treat it. Earlier this year a study funded by Breast Cancer Now and Queen’s University Belfast showed more of a similarity between the genetic causes of the disease in men and women than previously thought. Research like this is critical to improving our understanding of the disease in men and we hope that the Breast Cancer Now Male Breast Cancer Study will continue to advance our knowledge.”
Expert support after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
“For the thousands of people trying to continue or return to work after a breast cancer diagnosis in the UK each year, Breast Cancer Now offers support and information to help them manage long-term effects and minimise the impact on their careers where possible. Anyone can call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 to speak to one of our expert nurses, or visit our website at breastcancernow.org.
“Breast Cancer Now is determined to make sure that anyone affected by breast cancer continues to receive the support and information they need, through the coronavirus outbreak and beyond. Knowing about our support services will also mean that you can suggest them to any friends or colleagues who are looking for information or to connect with others affected by breast cancer.
“For many who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talking to someone else who’s also been through it can really help their ongoing recovery. This is exactly what our Someone Like Me enables people with a primary diagnosis to do, and we have extended our one-to-one phone and email service to provide support for people feeling isolated or anxious as a result of the pandemic.
“Our end-of-treatment support app, Becca, can be downloaded on mobile phones or tablets to deliver daily information and support from specialists, bloggers and trusted online sources to help women live well after treatment. Also, thanks to the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery Breast Cancer Now’s Moving Forward courses are now online. They provide information, support and expert guidance on adjusting to life after breast cancer treatment and an opportunity for people to speak to others who understand exactly how they’re feeling.”
Coronavirus advice for employers
This hub page complies all the latest government coronavirus updates. It includes what you can and cannot do in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, workplace advice from multiple sources, including information on welcoming staff back to the workplace and the latest vaccination information.
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