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There are more than 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. and nearly 50 percent of cancer survivors are of working age. But when’s the last time you heard or read about how cancer affects someone’s work life and career?

That’s where Cancer and Careers (CAC) comes in. The national nonprofit works to empower and educate people with cancer to thrive in their workplace by providing free expert advice, interactive tools, and educational events (because we all know that work is already challenging without all the medical appointments).

From fighting the stigma surrounding cancer to being aware of cancer’s side effects, CAC helped us uncover the truth about what it’s really like to work as a cancer survivor.

Why they work
Working is a way for cancer survivors to get back into the swing of regular life. According to CAC, “there is a consistent theme that people with cancer believe working is an essential coping mechanism.” A survey last year found that many patients and survivors feel work has a positive impact on their lives by providing benefits like feeling “normal” and productive.

To tell or not to tell 
Sharing one’s medical history with employers and co-workers can be a challenge for someone who’s battled cancer. Survivors have to ask themselves various questions when deciding whether to share their diagnosis. Do you have side effects from treatment that might affect your work? What is your work culture or environment like? Answering those questions can help determine whether or not a survivor wants to disclose information about their past, and if so, what and when.

Fighting the stigma
Returning to work after a diagnosis can be difficult, and a common fear for survivors is that co-workers might assume they can’t do their job at the same capacity as before getting sick. “Situations like this can bring out the best (and sometimes worst) in people,” reports CAC. “It’s important that they feel empowered to ‘swivel‘ away from their cancer diagnosis and back to work.”

Managing side effects
Whether someone underwent chemotherapy or radiation, treatment affects everyone differently. Cancer survivors must learn how the side effects — weight change, hair loss, mental health, fatigue — change their lifestyle and what it means in regards to the physical and mental demands of their job. This can help them make more informed decisions about possible work modifications, such as adjusting their schedule.

Check out cancerandcareers.org to learn more.

xx, The FabFitFun Team