I'm about to start returning to work, and I have to say I'm a little nervous. It's going to be incredibly tough to go back into the breast cancer environment having had breast cancer myself. But I've also realised it can be quite complicated. When I was first diagnosed, I was shocked to discover how little I knew about taking sick leave, what my rights were, how much full-pay and half-pay sick leave I was entitled to. I also realised how little I knew about what rights I had as a cancer patient when I returned to work.
Now my employers and practically everyone in my hospital knows I've had cancer because I've been so public about it. But what if no-one knows? What do you do, and who do you tell, indeed who MUST you tell (if anyone) when you do return to work?
On a different track, how do you keep and maintain a new work : life balance? How do you learn to say 'No' to things that you used to say 'Yes' to before, because you now have a different view on life? Is it OK to ask to work flexibly or to reduce your hours for your own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing? Does your employer have to accommodate you? If you're too scared to ask, what happens then? If, like me, you've had over 15 months off of work, do you worry about whether you'll be able to concentrate and focus on tasks at work, especially those that have real responsibility attached to them? I don't think concentrating during a binge watch of 24 (Yes, I must be one of the few people on the planet who never watched it the first time around) counts as properly paying attention for 8 hours a day.
It's not easy, and it can be very scary meeting your boss after having a long time off work to discuss what happens next. I had no idea what my rights were at my first meeting. For example, I didn't know that cancer patients are legally covered by the Equality Act (previously the Disability Discrimination Act), and a diagnosis of cancer is regarded as a disability. This means that we have rights. You can negotiate for reasonable changes in your work or workplace to help you get back to your job, for example more flexible hours. You also don't have to tell your employer you have had cancer. The thing is, if they don't know, they can't make changes to your job or your workplace. However, you can ask your employer to keep your medical information confidential (and they should do this automatically), so only the people you agree to have this information are told. Luckily, none of us have to struggle through this minefield. The fab team at Macmillan have a wealth of knowledge for every step of your cancer treatment, and are here to help with all your questions. We're having a tweetchat on with Lisa Milnes, one of the Support Line Advisors on Thursday 3rd November, from 12-1pm to answer any questions you have. The focus of the tweetchat is for us cancer patients to get all our questions answered - it's not for employers to find out how to support us.
You can ask us anything - Here are just a few questions to get you started…
What are my rights? What is a reasonable adjustment? What happens if my employer can't make the adjustments I need? How do I talk to me boss and my colleagues about my cancer? What happens if I need further treatments - do I need to take sick leave or annual leave for them? How do I cope with side effects and fatigue? When will I know I'm ready to go back to work? How do I find out how much sick pay I'm entitled to? How long does it take to recover from chemotherapy before going back to work?
Please tweet your questions now to @macmillancancer using #workandcancer. Remember to log on next Thursday, 3rd November from 12-1pm.