Going Back to Work with Bladder Cancer

“You have bladder cancer.”

While it may seem like the world stops the moment you hear these words, life goes on and sometimes that means getting back to work. Whether you are planning to continue doing your job during treatment or return afterward, there are things you can do to make it easier.

Talk to your healthcare provider

If you know that returning to work during or after bladder cancer treatment will be a priority for you, it’s worth telling your cancer care team. While most of your treatment plan will depend on how invasive or aggressive your bladder cancer is, health care providers (HCPs) may also take into account your desire to work, he said. Eila Skinner, MDurologic oncologist and professor of urology at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California.

“Most people with bladder cancer actually have outpatient surgery and/or bladder treatments,” Skinner said. “Therefore, patients need time off for each treatment, but this does not necessarily have a big effect on their ability to work.”

He added that more complicated treatments, such as bladder removal, radiation or chemotherapy, can make work more difficult, but that healthcare professionals can still help overcome work problems. “We will help him with his employer to determine how he can get those days off and any documentation he needs,” Skinner said.

Many patients also have the option of speaking with a social worker at the treatment center about making a return to work plan. These social workers can also direct patients to support services.

Know your legal rights

Know your legal rights

If you need to take time off for treatment or other reasons related to your bladder cancer, you may be eligible for unpaid leave under federal law. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, people with cancer can take up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave per year if:

  • You worked for your employer for at least 12 months.
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours (approximately 25 hours per week) during the last 12 months
  • Work at a location with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of your home

FMLA leave can be taken all at once or in shorter periods. You can also reduce your daily hours or work part-time for a while.

People with cancer (or a history of cancer) may also qualify for legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prevents discrimination against people with disabilities. This is because the ADA considers “disabilities” to include any impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or a history of this type of impairment.

Under the ADA, employers must evaluate employees with cancer based on their skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as how the disease affects them. They should not make decisions about employees with cancer based on fear or stereotypes about cancer.

For example, an employer may not demote a person who is receiving treatment for bladder cancer because he or she is concerned that work stress will make the cancer worse.

The ADA also requires employers to offer workplace accommodations (called reasonable accommodations) to people with cancer so they can continue doing their jobs.

In addition to these federal protections, your human resources department can answer questions about specific employer policies related to:

  • Short and long term disability
  • Sure
  • Sick time and flexibility

Ask about accommodation

Ask about accommodation

Once you have informed your employer about your bladder cancer, you can request accommodations that will make your job easier during and after treatment. Some accommodations covered by the ADA include:

  • Additional/extended breaks
  • A private area to rest and take medications.
  • Working from home
  • Share work with a coworker

Other examples of adjustments that could make working more feasible for you are:

  • Reorganize your workspace (or move to a new one)
  • Change your schedule and/or work outside of normal business hours
  • Temporarily change to a different job within the company.
  • Avoid physical work
  • Ensure you have access to seats when necessary
  • Taking time off for appointments

The first step in obtaining accommodations is to find out what, if anything, you need to provide your employer. Companies may request documentation, such as medical approval or a note from your healthcare professional.

Getting ready to return

Getting ready to return

Once you’ve set up your accommodations, it’s time to get your last ducks in a row. Think about what you want to share with your coworkers about your bladder cancer. Take a look at the bathroom situation and access any private bathroom, where you can take care self-catheterization or other needs.

It’s also a good idea to prepare an emergency kit for your desk or car in case you get stuck unexpectedly at work (or in traffic). This kit should contain things like medications, ostomy supplies, and anything else you may need.

According to Skinner, it’s best to take things one day at a time.

“I usually tell patients to try not to think too many steps ahead because it’s just not predictable,” he said. “I’m an optimist, so I tell them to be optimistic until they’re given a reason not to be.”

This educational resource was created with the support of Astellas, Merck and Pfizer.

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