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Can You Work While Undergoing Chemo?

Doctor Q&A

Cancer Survivorship Nurse Practitioner at Shawnee Mission Cancer Center

OK – you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. You’ll deal with it. But cancer carries with it a lot of unknowns, not the least of which could be some complicated dynamics at work.


You may face resentment from your co-workers, uncomfortable conversations about time off and possible discrimination issues.


Thankfully, advancements in treatment are providing hope for a much-needed sense of normalcy. 


Chemo is Changing for the Better

What used to be a grueling treatment period characterized by vomiting and painful side effects is becoming increasingly more manageable.


If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, you can keep working, thanks to these advancements:

  • Targeted therapies, designed to block the growth and spread of cancer cells as opposed to killing them, help decrease nausea and do not adversely affect blood counts as much as traditional chemotherapy
  • Most chemo is done on an outpatient basis
  • Some treatments last only one hour, and may be scheduled late in the afternoon, allowing you to work at least a half-day
  • All-day treatments are needed in some cases, but can be scheduled in advance so time off work is more easily arranged
  • Long-acting and short-acting anti-nausea medications are available and are often given before chemo even begins
  • Specialized physical therapists work with you to conquer fatigue

A Personalized Approach Can Help

Our goal at the Shawnee Mission Cancer Center is for our patients to stay active, keep working and maintain as normal a life as before. 


With that in mind, we evaluate your personal and work life, and will tailor a treatment plan that includes the following:

  • Treatment options that fit your schedule
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork that allows for six months of intermittent leave, giving you control of how much you want to work, while still receiving your much-needed recovery time
  • *Note – for more about FMLA, visit: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm
  • Other paperwork, including letters, to verify the need for special consideration
  • On-site financial navigators to help patients with any financial concerns
  • An on-site oncology psychologist for counseling and support
  • A survivorship clinic offered post-treatment to discuss:

Short-term and long-term side effects that can occur

Recovery strategies

Anxiety/depression concerns

Continued support during your cancer journey, even when that journey is a life-long process


Words of Advice

  • We know the challenges you face at work. It can be so stressful that you may even want to hide the truth about your cancer. Don’t do it!
  • Take heart in the fact that cancer stereotypes and stigmas are on the decline. The days of cancer as a work place taboo are waning.
  • Almost everyone understands cancer and all that comes with it, either by personally having had it or knowing someone affected by it.
  • Open and honest communication is the best strategy for navigating work place challenges that accompany your diagnosis.

Learn more about cancer care at SMH.


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