A video conference to discuss issues related to cancer survivors re-entering the workforce will be held Sept. 25 in Kelowna at the BC Cancer Agency Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Centre for the Southern Interior. Image Credit: Contributed

Coping with cancer in the workforce

Often overlooked difficulty facing cancer survivors

Everything to do with recovering from cancer treatment can be traumatic.

But while coping with the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis and navigating the treatment is challenging, returning to work or seeking new employment presents its own host of difficulties.

Maureen Parkinson, provincial vocational and rehabilitation counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency, says while 60 per cent of those diagnosed with cancer will return to their jobs after one to two years of treatment, 25 to 53 per cent will either quit or lose their jobs.

“It presents some dilemmas for people returning to work or looking for a new job on how to deal with the cancer issue,” Parkinson said.

“If they are asked the health question related to applying for a new job, and how do you handle that?”

She says the bottom line for any job applicant is they don’t have to disclose their cancer history unless it pertains directly to the job, if accommodation because of cancer treatment is required in order to perform the duties called for.

“Otherwise, people don’t have to talk about it. You don’t have to go there,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson plans to host a video conference Sept. 25 across the province to talk about these issues with cancer survivors. In Kelowna, her presentation will be broadcast at the BC Cancer Agency Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Centre for the Southern Interior from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The BC Cancer Agency offers a number of services for cancer patients looking to return to work, including in-person counselling, workshops, seminars and several online resources.

Parkinson says her clients tend to be referrals from their doctors.

For people returning to their jobs, Parkinson said the personal nature of the cancer experience is one not everybody wants to openly share.

“It varies person to person. People do far better returning to work when they have the support of their co-workers and employer,” Parkinson said.

She says bringing your co-workers in the loop may help avoid misunderstandings or rumours that arise when they take not of changes in mood or behaviour, or absences from work.

Putting up a false front adds to the stress of maintaining a degree of false self-composure, which just adds to whatever stress you are already dealing with, Parkinson says.

What she calls “the wonderful world of napping” has also become a workplace feature that can be beneficial to cancer treatment employees.

“It something that IT companies started, realizing their employees work longer hours and to off-set worker fatigue, to have a nap respite. It allows for people to work longer hours and be more productive on the job,” Parkinson said.

“At our Canadian Cancer Society office in Toronto we are walking the walk by instituting a nap room. It’s a simple thing to do but it pays off.”

From an employer’s viewpoint, Parkinson says studies have shown that cancer survivor hires tend to be more loyal, less likely to change jobs and worry less about future changes in their career ambitions.

“From a human resource standpoint, hiring or retaining a cancer survivor is good business. It sends out a positive karma message to other employees that we take care of our own. It’s one tool to help develop company loyalty,” she said.

Anyone interested in the Sept. 25 video conference in Kelowna can register by contacting the cancer centre by calling toll-free at 1-888-563-7773.

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