Working with Cancer

Returning to work after cancer – what’s so important?

Enabling cancer survivors  to return to work benefits the wider community

Enabling cancer survivors to return to work benefits the wider community

There are at present over 2 million people in the UK living with cancer and Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that by 2030 there will be 4 million.

But the story of cancer is in many ways changing for the better. It is increasingly becoming an illness which is either successfully cured with no signs of illness, or treated to allow a person to live with the active disease for many years. There may be a number of long-term side effects to cope with such as fatigue, pain, reduced mobility and loss of confidence, and these may affect an individual’s ability to work, but this doesn’t mean they have to give up work.

Indeed, for many of those who have cancer, work is important for a number of reasons.  Of course there are the financial benefits of maintaining an income but crucially for some, it provides a sense of purpose in life and offers an important lifeline back to normality and wellbeing.  Most importantly, the evidence increasingly shows that returning to work actually aids recovery.

Over 70% of organisations that make workplace adjustments to support people with disabilities such as cancer find them easy to implement. Many adjustments, such as offering flexible working hours or permitting an employee to work from home, usually cost next to nothing. However, almost half of those who are working when diagnosed with cancer have to make changes to their working lives, with around 4 in 10 of those changing jobs or leaving work altogether.

New and improved treatments are helping more people live with cancer as a long-term, chronic condition. And like many other long-term conditions, cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. By law, employers must consider requests such as flexible working hours or physical adjustments to the workplace from someone who has cancer.

But there are more than just legal reasons to support people with cancer at work. Helping cancer survivors return to work benefits not only the individual as described above, and their company, which retains an employee on whom they’ve spent time and money hiring and training, it also adds to the longer term economic and social health of the wider community.




Barbara Wilson

BARBARA WILSON, founder of Working with Cancer, is a senior HR professional with almost 40 years’ experience. Her previous roles were Group Head of Strategic HR at Catlin Group Ltd, Deputy Head of HR at Schroders Investment Management, and prior to that Chief of Staff to the Group HR Director at Barclays. Before joining Barclays she was a senior management consultant at Price Waterhouse. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Barbara set up a group called ‘Working with Cancer’. The group was the first to develop guidelines on work and cancer for HR professionals, line managers, employees and carers. From 2008 to 2010 she chaired a major part of the NHS/Macmillan 5-year Cancer Survivorship strategy, developing ‘work and cancer’ support tools for employees, employers and clinicians. She continues to work as a volunteer with Macmillan Cancer Support and speaks about ‘work and cancer’ at various conferences and events. Barbara trained as a coach at Ashridge Management College and has a history degree from Cambridge University. She is married with two sons and lives in Surrey.

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