Practical issues | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse

Practical issues

A diagnosis of cancer often results in changes to your work and home life. Here are some tips on how to help you deal with practical issues:

Work and Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most difficult situations that anyone has to face. It can cause great fear and worry, and can affect every aspect of your life, including your ability to work.

Many cancers can be cured, but the tests and treatments needed for cancer may mean spending some time in hospital. Treatments may include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or other drugs that can cause unpleasant side effects.

The symptoms of cancer or the side effects of treatment may reduce your ability to work. For some people this will be temporary but for others it may be permanent. Some people may need to make changes to their work, such as changing patterns of work or working from home.

People have different views about work. For some, it is the centre of their lives and they would feel lost without it. For others, it’s a means to an end: something they would give up if they could.

For some people, cancer and its treatment will be a challenge; something to get through so they can get back to their normal life, including work. For other people, it will be an opportunity to rethink their lives and consider retraining, retiring or taking early retirement.

Working during treatment

Some people choose to carry on working, either full-time or part-time, during their treatment. Some people need to carry on working as much as possible for financial reasons.

Before treatment, it’s often difficult to know exactly how the treatment may affect you and it will help to let your employer know this, so that they are aware you may need to change your work plans at short notice.

If your employer knows that you have cancer they can help you by providing support and giving you information about your rights. They can also make sure that you have time off if you need it and that you get all the financial help and benefits you are entitled to. You can talk directly to your employer, your human resources manager or occupational health department, your trade union, or all four.

If carrying on as normal is important for you, you should say this to your employer so that they can support you in continuing with your work. However, if you can’t go on working normally because of the cancer or its treatment, then let your employer know. Arrangements can then be made to alter your work or give you time off if necessary.

If you would like to talk to someone about this please contact a member of your Lifehouse care team.

Returning to Work

You are the best judge of when to return to work. This will be different for everyone and will depend on how you feel. It may help to go back for short periods of time and build up as you feel better. You may be anxious to prove that your skills have not been affected by your illness. Try to pace yourself so you don’t get too tired. Consider talking to your employer about working part time, job sharing or working from home.

You might find that relationships with colleagues change when you return to work. Like your family and friends, your colleagues may be unsure of what to say or try to protect your feelings. Some people with cancer have found that being open about their condition eases relationships with co-workers.

Some people returning to work appreciate a casual attitude towards their illness. If you are being overprotected at home, returning to a situation where others don’t think of you as sick might be just what you need.
If treatment has made it impossible to return to work, look into rehabilitation and retraining programs that can prepare you for another job. Contact Centrelink or your hospital social worker for more information.

Source: Macmillan UK

Relationships and communication

Cancer doesn’t affect just one person. Cancer affects those closest to you including partners, family members, and friends. The complex feelings and lifestyle changes that follow a cancer diagnosis can be almost as overwhelming for family members and friends as they are for the person with cancer.

Cancer changes the way you relate to your family and friends, and the way they relate to you.

Communication becomes especially important for people with cancer and those who care about them. Lack of communication can lead to isolation, frustration, and unmet needs. People with cancer who don’t talk about their illness often feel they are facing cancer alone. Talking about and sharing feelings and needs together lets couples, families, and friends work with one another to solve problems and cope with difficult situations.

When feelings and wishes are left unsaid, you may be left with inaccurate or even hurtful assumptions about why the people who care about you are acting in a specific way. Sharing your feelings, such as sadness and fear, also lets others know how much you care for and love them. Talking about feelings and problems with honesty, sincerity, and openness can greatly reduce the stress that cancer places on relationships.

If you are having a hard time talking with people, consider talking with a counsellor or social worker. Those closest to you may also benefit from talking to someone. Find out more about Counselling at the LivingRoom here.

Sources in this section include:


It’s important to realise that cancer is not a single disease with a single cause and a single type of treatment. There are more than 100 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Cancer may have specific effects on the body, and in some people may cause specific physical problems depending on the part of the body that is affected.

Some examples are:

  • Lung cancer can cause a cough or breathlessness.
  • A cancer that has spread into the lymph glands may cause swelling of a part of the body by blocking the flow of lymph fluid through the affected lymph glands. This is known as lymphoedema.
  • Cancer in a bone may make the bone weak, and increase the chance of it breaking (a fracture).

These physical problems or disabilities may make travelling difficult.

Travelling when undergoing treatments

Treatments that are commonly used for people with cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Treatment may be aimed at curing a cancer, or at controlling it for as long as possible to give the best quality of life.

Cancer treatment may also have effects on the body and can cause short-term problems such as sickness, diarrhoea or sensitivity to the sun. Occasionally, treatments can cause long-term physical problems, such as swelling of a limb.

Some treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause extreme tiredness (fatigue) both during and after treatment. The tiredness may limit the type of travel you can do, or the amount of activity you can manage while you are away.

Some types of surgery for cancer may cause a permanent physical change to the body, for example:

  • Removal and creation of a colostomy or ileostomy
  • Removal of a breast (mastectomy)
  • Removal of another part of the body.

Your Lifehouse care team can give you advice regarding travel insurance, certificates, supplies and dietary issues while you are away.

Sometimes it’s possible to have a holiday while you are still in the middle of treatment – for example, between courses of treatment. In this situation it’s very important to discuss things with your doctor beforehand, so that you can plan the best time for your holiday.

You can take this chance to talk through any possible problems and how to deal with them if they occur.

Source: Macmillan UK

Pet Care

Many people with cancer live alone but have the companionship of a pet. Looking after a pet can become a problem if you have to go into hospital for treatment, or into a nursing or residential home if you are less able to cope because of the cancer or its treatment.

This can be a very distressing time and many pet owners worry about who will look after their pet when they cannot, or who will care for their pet if they should die.

There are arrangements you can make for your pets while you are in hospital, or if you become unable to care for them.

Who can help with caring for your pets?

It is always a good idea to check with neighbours, relatives and friends who live close by to see if they can help you out, as your pet is more likely to know and trust them. They may be able to pop in to feed your pet and provide extra care, such as walking your dog.

Relatives and friends who live further away may also be able to help. It might be possible for them to care for your pet at their home, although this will take more planning and will not always be suitable.

Your local vet may be able to help as they might know of, or provide, a volunteer support scheme. This is where volunteers visit your home to care for your pet, or temporarily look after your pet in their own home while you are in hospital. Your vet might also know of animal shelters in your area that may be able to help or contact the RSPCA.

Social workers may be able to give you advice about care of your pet while you are in hospital.

Source: Macmillan UK

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