A diagnosis of advanced cancer does not necessarily mean the end of your work life. Depending on your physical and mental health, you may prefer to continue working because you enjoy what you do, want the social engagement, want to fulfil commitments, need the money, or want a “normal” routine.

Whatever your reasons, you will need to consider how work fits in with your changing physical abilities and your treatment. Your boss and workplace may give you the flexibility you need. If not, something else may suit you.

If your reason for working is more than financial you may find some satisfaction in volunteering or community work.

If you cannot work but want to be involved you may consider studying or learning a skill for the fun of it (eg. pottery or art class) or joining or starting a book club or Scrabble group.

Your leisure time may become even more important to you. Holidaying, eating out and going to shows, movies and sports events may boost your emotional and social wellbeing.

What may help

Talk to your boss

All workplaces are different and not all will be flexible and understanding, but you can never be sure until you ask. Many bosses will do anything for a valued worker, so if you are open about how your illness may affect you and your work, they may well fit around you.


Q: Am I legally entitled to keep my job, even if my cancer is affecting how I do it?

A: This depends on your individual situation, but there are laws to protect workers from unfair dismissal, unlawful termination and disability discrimination.

So, if you think you have been unjustly treated, you may want to seek specific legal advice. Most states have a workplace rights advocate, or you can try the Federal Fair Work Ombudsman.

Talk to an occupational therapist

Your doctor or local hospital should be able to refer you to an occupational therapist who can advise you on what work and activities may suit you.

Check your finances

Try to let your health and state of mind and not your bank account, influence your work decisions but stopping or reducing your work may have a financial impact.

Read the fine print

Before you book any holidays, check with a good travel agent for travel insurance that will cover your needs. Also, pay close attention to itineraries to ensure you are not too far from reliable medical facilities. It is also worth checking the cancellation policies on tickets for travel and events, just in case you are not well enough to attend.

Plan your play

Your friends and family may not always remember or recognise your limitations, make sure they are aware of what you can manage when planning holidays and outings. Beware of over-committing yourself for fear of upsetting other people’s plans, because that may only cause more disruption in the end. Remember that this may well be a time when your family and friends simply want to spend time with you, so any activities you suggest are likely to suit them too.

For more information

  • If you are worried about your rights at work, try the website of the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman. This gives an overview of your rights and also provides links to other useful sites related to the workplace.
  • If you are looking to do unpaid community work, go to the Volunteering Australia website, for details of your nearest volunteer resource centre, which can point you to appropriate organisations.

Last updated 30 August 2015

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