Managing Cancer and Work

People living with or recovering from cancer face similar challenges in the workplace to those with other impairments or health conditions. At Evenbreak we find that many employers are confused about how to manage these situations.

There are over 750,000 people of working age (16 – 64) living with cancer in the UK. Many want to stay in or return to work, but without the right support can struggle to do so.

Thankfully, there is a social enterprise which can offer help and support to everyone involved at what can be a very uncertain and frightening time. Working With Cancer was set up by Barbara Wilson, a senior HR professional with personal experience of cancer. She recognised how important staying in, or returning to work is for many people with cancer.

Working With Cancer offers services and support to organisations, employees with cancer, working carers, charities and social enterprises.

Organisations may not know how best to support an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer. They can benefit from training and consultancy to ensure that all employees including managers are equipped, knowledgeable and confident to respond appropriately. Organisations can also source 121 coaching from Working With Cancer for those of their employees directly affected by cancer.

Working With Cancer also works with individuals who contact it privately, providing one-to-one coaching and advice for employees with cancer and their partner if required. This can be useful to people who are employed, self-employed or a carer who is combining work with caring for someone with cancer.

They also deliver workshops for cancer patients and survivors on how to manage work and cancer, return to work or find employment. These workshops are usually run in partnership with other well-known cancer charities.

If you are affected by cancer, as a worker, manager or someone wanting to return to work, please talk to the team at Working With Cancer for information on quality services delivered by professionals who have lived the experience of cancer.

For further information please contact: or visit the Working With Cancer website at

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Guest blog: Cancer – What it means in the Workplace

This guest blog is written by my good friend Suzan St Maur, who is an online business journalist and multi-published nonfiction author. She is also Chair of the Milton Keynes Cancer Patient Partnership, and lectures on cancer survivorship. She has had cancer twice.


Did you know that right now there are more than 700,000 people of working age in the UK who are living with cancer? And did you know that more than 100,000 working-age people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year?

For any employee a diagnosis of cancer comes as a huge shock with an accompanying sense of isolation and despair. Many employers these days are very sympathetic and support the cancer patient well, but equally I have heard stories of a less than supportive attitude – especially, sadly, among some major corporates with rigidly defined and rather bureaucratic, inflexible HR policies.

Cancer is a word which has spooked many of our governmental organizations and authorities, along with larger companies. Why? Because it doesn’t fit comfortably into any conventional pigeon holes as far as employment is concerned.

• Is it a disability if it doesn’t affect the person’s physical or mental capabilities?

• Is it a temporary disease with the possibility of becoming terminal?

• Is it a chronic disease like diabetes or MS – but with the possibility in many cases of a cure?

• Can staff continue working during some or all of their treatment?

• If not, will they come back to work when their treatment is done?

Some good advice for employers

Fortunately the UK cancer charity Macmillan has produced a very comprehensive free pack that covers the best ways for employers to handle cancer for employees with a cancer diagnosis, and for working carers of cancer patients. Here are a couple of brief excerpts:

“At Macmillan, we know that employers play a pivotal role in supporting people with cancer and their carers. We also know that a good relationship between an employer and an employee is more likely to lead to a successful return-to-work. This is particularly important because less than 40 percent of people are advised by health professionals about the impact cancer and its treatment may have on their ability to work.”

“Supporting employees who are diagnosed with cancer makes business sense for employers. By making reasonable adjustments, employers can retain their employees and allow them to perform to their potential.”

What the Macmillan pack contains:

• Managing Cancer In The Workplace: an employer’s guide to supporting staff affected by cancer (100 page book)

• Work And Cancer: a guide for people living with cancer (100 page book)

• Work It Out: essential questions to ask about work and cancer (booklet)

• Work And Cancer: top 10 tips for line managers

• Working While Caring For Someone With Cancer (60 page book)

• …plus a poster for promotion of cancer awareness, and various other leaflets.

How to get your pack

As I mentioned this pack, entitled “The Essential Work And Cancer Toolkit,” is available to employers free of charge from the Macmillan website, here:

For employers, it really is worthwhile to acquire a copy of this “toolkit” in its neat green A5 size box as a reference tool. Let us hope you won’t need to use it but if you do, the information will be very useful. For employees and anyone either diagnosed or suspected of having cancer, the Macmillan site offers a great deal of very helpful advice on a wide variety of cancer-related topics. Go


My sincere thanks to Suze for making us aware of such a valuable resource for employers.

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