Close this search box.

Breast Cancer at Work: Navigating the Conversation

I received a breast cancer diagnosis last week.

That feels REALLY strange to type out – almost makes it feel more real. I say this because reality hasn’t fully sunken in yet of what’s ahead for me and my family. One of my first concerns when I found out, was what will happen at work. I’m a workaholic by trade, so if I am forced to take a step back to take care of myself, I feel lost. I know I’m just a person aside from my career and also know that work can go on without me there. I just don’t want it to have to be that way.

I decided to write down my thoughts about this process, not just to (hopefully) support breast cancer patients in navigating their cancer care and work, but so that I can talk myself through it too. Journaling has been helpful to me in past challenging times to help my brain work through issues, so why not make it public, call it a blog, and help you figure it out too?

So, here are some tips from my experience in the corporate world. I have no tips yet from real-life experience since finding cancer support is so new to me, but I’ll share what I find out along this journey.

The diagnosis

You’re newly diagnosed, and now you have to make some big decisions.

The first step to take is to tell your boss and colleagues about your diagnosis. How much should be revealed? Should everyone know? Will it change how they treat you at work?

These are questions that will affect not only the quality of your job but also how well-supported and happy you feel in it–and since we know that support from colleagues can make all the difference when living with chronic illness, these questions deserve careful consideration.

I took initial steps today in revealing my diagnosis at work. I told 3 people… the most pertinent to the time I’ll need to take away and the projects that I’ll need help with managing. I’m still working on how to tell the rest of my team and also how to handle things when I’m not in the office. I have some projects that need my attention and so does my team, which is why it’s important for me to have a plan going into cancer treatment.

Next steps

When navigating working with breast cancer, you need to check with your doctor to see if you can return to work. If not, ask for help from your employer. Your company may be able to provide additional time off and/or other accommodations that make it easier for you to continue working while managing your illness.

Even when going back to work after breast cancer, it can be hard to adjust. You may need to ask for more flexible hours or new work arrangements so that your illness doesn’t interfere with your job performance.

If you’re not sure how to go about making the changes you need, talk to your manager or human resources department. You may be able to make some of these arrangements informally; but if they aren’t working out, you can also ask for a formal accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you qualify for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) job protection (based on the number of hours you’ve worked in the last 12 months), take action on that paperwork right away. You will need information from your employer and your doctor to complete it.

The decision to take time off from work.

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do next. You may be worried about how your illness will affect your work and other responsibilities. It’s important to know that there is no right or wrong way of handling this situation–you can take time off from work if you need to and still maintain a strong relationship with your employer.

If possible, try not to make any major decisions while under stress or in crisis mode after receiving news of a cancer diagnosis; instead, talk with loved ones who have been through similar situations (such as family members or friends) before making any final decisions about how much time away from work would be appropriate for you at this point in time.

It’s important to talk with your employer about your situation.

It’s important to communicate openly, honestly, and frequently about how you’re feeling and what you need from your employer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help–and don’t be afraid to ask for more time off if needed.

My job has been fully remote, even pre-pandemic, and although the great return-to-office wave is happening, you know it’s now been proven we can do our jobs from home effectively, so don’t let your employer say you can’t do so now. If your job requires in-office attendance though, you may also want to consider asking for a flexible or hybrid remote schedule so that it’s easier for both of you when getting through this difficult time together.


This is a challenging situation to be in and may feel impossible sometimes, but you must know that there are options out there for you. If you want to continue working while being treated for breast cancer, I hope I can help with that.

My personal experience is new and much of this information came from my time as an HR professional. I will include both practical tips like these and also my true feelings during this time – raw and honest as they may be. I hope you will share in my breast cancer treatment journey… I know it’s something we shouldn’t do alone.

Share Article