From the TUC

Cancer and Work: understanding your options

01 Sep 2016, By Guest

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, there are a range of decisions that they will need to make in terms of options regarding work. Some may choose to take a break during treatment, or will be considering whether or not to return to work after. In order for the person affected by cancer to know what option is best for them, it is key is that they have gathered information by asking questions of a range of people – such as their GP, oncology team, employer or a cancer charity.

As a union rep, it’s important for you to be aware of the types of questions a member with cancer may ask.  It is also important for the person affected by cancer to be able to have regular, open conversations with their manager (or HR) about what changes may need to be implemented so the individual can make the right decisions based on his/her own circumstances.

Peter was working as Senior Project Manager for a construction company when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “It was like being hit by a train to be honest.” However, when he told his employer that he needed to have an operation they were understanding and supportive.

“It took me three months to recover after the operation. I didn’t return to work in this period as my oncologist told me I wasn’t ready and my HR contact told me not rush back, so I didn’t feel pressured.”

By speaking with his employer about his cancer, using information he had found out from his oncology team, changes were put in place that helped him to return to work when he was ready.

“I’m a very active person and felt I was ready for work. Actually I felt it would help me recover to do something and I really appreciated that my job was there for me to return to.”

Unfortunately, Peter’s cancer has come back, so he is currently taking some time off work during treatment. His previous experience with his employer however has made him feel loyal to and appreciated by the company:

“I feel very loyal to the company now. I always felt loyal and proud to work there, but now even more so.”

For people affected by cancer in the workplace, he recommends finding out information from a range of sources in order to make decisions around work. “I have found that talking and asking questions when necessary has really helped me.”

Nevertheless, there is no one-size fits all; the right option will depend very much on the individual’s work, health and financial circumstances. Macmillan has therefore developed a questions guide, which includes a range of questions people affected by cancer can ask to help them feel more informed and confident in making decisions about their future.

If you want to learn more about supporting union members affected by cancer, you can access the online learning module Cancer in the workplace, developed jointly by Macmillan and the TUC.  This introductory 30-minute ‘bite-sized’ learning, called an eNote, is designed to help union reps advise and support members affected by cancer.  You can find out more, or sign up for the eNote, at