Career crisis for cancer patients

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Cancer is wreaking havoc on people’s careers with over half (57 per cent) having to give up work or education, change role or change hours as a result of their diagnosis, Macmillan Cancer Support has found. Despite this, more than four out of five cancer patients (80 per cent) are not being warned about the impact cancer could have on their career1.

Following treatment, people with cancer often need to return to work for financial reasons as seven out of 10 see their income fall due to cancer; falling on average by half2. Others do it to bring a sense of normality back into their lives. Whatever the reason, cancer patients cannot do it alone and so leading cancer charity Macmillan is calling on the next Government to provide better long-term support to cancer patients and help them get back into work.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support says: “Every year in the UK 106,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer3; with many having to juggle jobs, treatment and the long-term effects of the disease. It is a huge failure then when people tell us they feel abandoned and don’t know who or where to turn to for help and support as they try to get back into work.”

Ciaran Devane adds, “Every political party must ensure that all working age cancer patients are offered return to work support as part of a complete aftercare programme, designed to help them manage the long-term effects of treatment and get their life back to normal.”

Lorna, 52, from London was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2007. She was treated with chemotherapy and surgery to remove lymph nodes, and then received five weeks of radiotherapy.

“I was signed off sick from work for five weeks after the radiotherapy. I was in an office job at the time but I really didn’t feel physically or emotionally ready to return. Equally, I felt guilty about taking more time off, says Lorna.

“I’d have preferred to start back part-time but no one was there to talk me through the possibilities so I went back full time, struggling with memory loss from chemotherapy and desperately low energy levels,” Lorna adds.

Sadly, she is not alone and Macmillan wants Lorna and thousands like her to be helped back into work. This help could be as simple as providing basic information about workplace adjustments, to personalised support from a specialist negotiating flexible working hours or providing occupational therapy, physiotherapy or counselling.

If you have cancer and are worried about work, call Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk/work



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  1. Helping people back into work following a serious illness is very much the remit of Occupational Health(OH)services. It is disappointing that the article does not directly mention OH and the positive contribution such services can make.

    The new GP fit note will also provide an opportunity for those organisations that do not have an OH service to at least consider the need for adjustments to support an individual back into work It will be interesting to see how the new system works in practice.

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