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Returning to work or study

Making the transition to return to work or study following your diagnosis or treatment can be overwhelming.

It is important to have this discussion with your treatment team and your employer to make sure it is safe and sustainable for you. You may also want to talk to your family and friends before deciding on the best course of action.

Job Access is an Australian government program that helps you to find work or to assist with workplace modifications to help you return to work after illness.

Things to consider when returning to work

Why you feel you should return to work?

You may feel pressure to keep working or to return before you’re physically and emotionally ready. You may ask yourself why you feel you should return to work? Is it financial pressure or something you feel you should do. Can you arrange flexible working arrangements to help you either stay working during treatment or to return after your treatment. You may need to adjust certain parts of your job to make things easier.

Will you be able to return to your usual occupation?

Not everyone will be able to return to the same type of work they were doing prior to their diagnosis. This might mean that some people look for opportunities such as retraining, volunteering or even looking to retire. Realising you are unable to return to your usual occupation can be one of the most frustrating hurdles to overcome. Our blood cancer support coordinators can provide advice and assistance to help you explore what options are available for you.

Conversations to have

Talking between yourself, family and friends

Questions to consider:

  • What do I want?
  • Am I well enough to return to work?
  • Do I need to do work?
  • Do I need to change jobs?
  • Can I volunteer instead of working?
  • Can I study something I have always wanted to?

Talking to your Treatment team

Questions you may like to discuss:

  • What am I able to do?
  • Can they help with medical certificates?
  • Provide assistance with a return to work plan?
  • What are the risks/challenges/benefits of working?

Talking with your employer

Questions you might like to ask include:

  • How can you help me?
  • What will you adjust for me? Can I work part-time?
  • Can I do a different job?
  • Do I need a return to work medical certificate?
  • Can we develop a return to work plan?
  • Can you provide access assistive equipment?
  • What support can you provide? How can we put these arrangements in place?

You may feel more comfortable taking a support person to help with discussions.

Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to any arrangements. You may need to get more information or time to think about your options.

Challenges of working

Some of the challenges you may face when returning to work include:

  • Needing time off for appointments
  • Self-confidence and self-esteem changes
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Cancer-related fatigue or reduced energy levels
  • Medication side effects
  • Loss of physical strength
  • Eating problems
Benefits of volunteering

Some of the benefits people experience from volunteering include:

  • improved 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
  • allows awareness of fatigue management

The Volunteering Australia website is an excellent place to start, access it here.

Other employment options

It’s okay to do other things like working part-time or changing jobs or careers.

You may want to:

  • learn a new skill
  • change roles at work
  • study for a new career

There are many agencies that provide guidance and assistance to help people return to work. Employment services can provide individually tailored support. Support and information regarding job seeking and programs can be accessed through Services Australia.


If you decide to study for a new career there are lots of options and supports available:

  • pathways for employment
  • training and assistance
  • accessing Australian Government funding

You can call Job Access Adviser on 1800 464 800 for free and confidential career advice.

There are also some charity groups that offer scholarships, grants and programs for study:


It is important to understand the effect retirement may have on you, your finances and others around you. It may be beneficial to consider:

  • seeking financial advice and discussing it with your partner or family
  • letting your family/friends know if you are having difficulty giving up work
  • if you are worried about a loss of identity
  • a fear of being bored
  • talking to a counsellor

It is natural to have mixed feelings about retirement. Feelings about retirement will depend on your plans before and how old you are.

Financial literacy and counselling

It may be beneficial to prepare a family budget to help manage your money:

  • Match your budget to your pay period to manage your income payments
  • Work out your income
  • Work out your expenses

Financial counselling is available through the National debt helpline to:

  • discuss your current situation or
  • access debt relief services
Potential entitlements

You may have the potential to access entitlements through:

  • Superannuation – you may be able to access your fund
  • Insurance – income protection or TPD insurance through your superannuation
  • Centrelink – jobseeker or sickness benefits may be available

If you are self-employed, you can speak with a business advisor or a financial advisor for advice.

Talking with people at work

There is no easy way to deal with sharing your diagnosis. Talking to people at work about your diagnosis can be difficult. Some things you may like to consider before returning to work are:

  • Work out how much information you want to share. Practice it with your family and friends to help everyone feel comfortable.
  • Ask for help from someone you are close with or your employer to advocate on your behalf.
  • Be aware that people may avoid you. This could be that they don’t know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Your workplace rights

By law, employers must take reasonable steps to accommodate employees get back to work by:

  • using a return to work plan that supports your circumstances
  • giving you flexibility in working hours
  • giving you different equipment to help you to work in that space

Your employer should adjust your duties to let you do your job to the best of your ability.

Employers can get funding from the Employee Assistance Fund for workplace support. This is an Australian government program called Job Access.

An employer cannot fire an employee due to their blood cancer treatment or diagnosis.

You can access help through Fair Work Ombudsman and/or the Human Rights Commission if your workplace refuses to accommodate your needs or you have been discriminated against.

If you still have questions, you can call our Blood Cancer Support Coordinators on 1800 620 420.

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