Returning to work or study
Here are some steps to getting back into the workforce or study after a blood cancer diagnosis.
Once you start to recover from your treatment you will need to start looking ahead.
The thought of returning to work or study after a blood cancer diagnosis can be daunting, but help is at hand and adopting a positive attitude will help you move on with your life.
Will you be able to return to your usual occupation?
While some may be able to resume the work they were doing prior to diagnosis, others will have to resign from their previous employment and look at learning new skills to obtain future employment. This is a very difficult time as many patients post treatment and transplant suffer from fatigue, which prevents them from working long hours. Patients who have undergone a bone marrow transplant might also have to come to terms with Graft-versus-host disease issues. The journey post treatment is very individual and in regard to returning to work can present some very confronting issues for you.
Things to consider when looking at returning to work:
Your medical condition
If you feel well enough to return to work, speak to your medical team about whether it is right to do so. Though you may feel well enough, you may be immune-compromised and should not be exposed to groups of people, or you may be about to start a new course of treatment that may potentially have serious side-effects. Either way, your doctors should be made aware of your plans and give you the all-clear to return to work.
Many workplaces will require some sort of medical certificate if you are returning to work. This may be as simple as your doctor confirming your condition has improved enough to go back to work, or a certificate outlining in what capacity you are fit enough to return to work.
Create a return-to-work plan
Creating a plan with your medical team and manager can not only benefit you, but your workplace as well. Your medical team will help you outline any limitations you may have, and your work can help to accommodate these – whether that be adjusting your hours, equipment or location. You can do this either informally over the phone or create a more formal plan which your doctor and manager will agree to.
Practice your routine
To test whether you are ready to return to work, try to practice what it would be like to be back at work. This may sound silly but testing your routine can really help you decide if you are ready to return. Start by waking up at the time you would need to, practice your commute to work and put in a couple of hours working on projects with the same mental or physical challenges that you will face in the workplace.
- Hours – are you able to work full time? Are you able to negotiate shorter hours if needed? Are flexible work arrangements available?
- Equipment and facilities – are you able to access assistive equipment such as an adjustable chair, standing desk or other specialised tools? Or text-to-speech software if you have suffered poor eyesight as a result of your treatment? Perhaps you may need your desk closer to the bathroom, or a parking space closer to the entry?
- Duties and targets – is your role able to be altered slightly to unburden you from duties or goals you may not be able to achieve in the same way as before?
- Does a Centrelink payment affect your options? To discuss your current benefit payments and eligibility for benefits if you return to work, contact Centrelink on 13 27 17 or go to www.humanservices.gov.au.
There are multiple layers of protection in Australia to prevent people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness from being discriminated against by their employer. This protection includes the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Fair Work Act 2009 which are both federal legislations. Each state also has their own Fair Work legislation which changes state-by-state.
Once you have informed your employer that you plan to return, your workplace is legally required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your needs.
If you feel you have been discriminated against and feel your workplace is refusing to accommodate your needs, speak with the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Human Rights Commission to discuss your situation.
Once you have returned to work, situations can arise in which you feel discriminated against.
This may mean you have been treated differently to other employees in a negative way because of your medical condition. For example, being demoted to a lower-paying role or not receiving a promotion.
This is where a rule, policy or procedure has been put in place for all staff but disadvantages you in some way. For example, if your work wanted all staff to move heavy equipment regularly, but you are unable to.
This is a very emotional time and you may seek an opportunity to talk through your options in a safe and protected environment. We have support staff who are available to speak with you, free of charge, to explore your options. Contact us on 1800 620 420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking at other employment options
Coming to the realisation that your previous line of employment is not suitable to your level of ability is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome. Again, the Leukaemia Foundation support staff can provide advice and assistance to help you explore what options are available for you to help you embrace the future. If you are currently receiving a Centrelink benefit and wish to explore what other services they offer, visit www.humanservices.gov.au. Centrelink provides a Disability Employment Assistance Service that encompasses a myriad of support and information for the individual regarding job seeking and other services and programs.
There are many other agencies that provide guidance and assistance to help patients return to work. Our staff can help you research these options further.
Below are some helpful links that you can explore:
Community Directory – The Brisbane community directory provides up-to-date information on disability employment and training services in Brisbane.
Wesley Mission Brisbane – Wesley Mission Brisbane Employment Services supports people with disability by helping them find and maintain meaningful employment.
Another avenue some may wish to consider when looking at returning to work is contacting the various private providers in your local area. Employment services can provide individually tailored support for people facing barriers to obtaining or maintaining employment.
Sometimes you are unaware of their own capabilities. Sometimes the journey has been over such a long period of time that you have had to surrender your position with their employer and are in the position of exploring alternative employment. This can be very confronting. In trying to determine how much time you can offer an employer, you may want to consider volunteering to discover your current abilities and physical stamina. The Volunteering Australia website is an excellent place to start.
Benefits of volunteering:
- improve self worth/self confidence
- create a skill base
- establish friendships and links with community
- create opportunity to explore new options and working environments
- discover your capacity within the working environment
- allows continuation with Centrelink payments while gaining control
- allows awareness of fatigue management.
Returning to work can be both exciting and overwhelming. After all that time off, you may no longer feel confident that you can cope with the workplace. If you’re returning to work after a severe or long-term illness, you should do so gradually. Your illness may have made it impossible for you to continue in your former occupation. You may need to set new goals and these may be quite modest when you first start back at work. As your health and confidence improve, you can revise or build on these goals. Firstly, you need to establish what you want, and what are you looking for in a job. Decide if you want:
- full-time or part-time work
- paid employment or work in a voluntary sector
- work in a familiar field or in a new area
- to retrain.
To plan a career, you need to know who you are. You need to have assessed your own values, interests, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, personal resources and goals.
Where can you get help?
You may only need one person to talk things through with, or you might want to enlist a whole team of people to cheer you on. Use a professional counsellor, career or guidance officer, mentor, colleague, family member, friend or any combination of these. Anyone who can give you objective opinions and help you feel cheerful about job hunting is useful to you.
Some organisations that you may wish to contact are:
- Skilled Australia – 1300 361 582
- Skilling Solutions Queensland
- Employment Services Info Line 13 62 68
- Employment Plus Line (>45 yrs) 13 17 64
- Department of Employment 133 397
- Experience Plus Line 131 764
- Other independent employment agencies.
If you wish to pursue further studies you will need to do some research into the areas and institutions that interest you and from there explore what options are available. Initial contact should be made with the Career Guidance Officer at the chosen institution to further explore the entry requirements and application process. There are scholarships and grants offered through some charity groups that provide opportunities for individuals to pursue further study. If you wish to explore these options please contact:
- Cancer Council
- Redkite (for people 24 and under)
- Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Last updated on June 10th, 2020
Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.