Returning to work after cancer

Returning to work after cancer

After a long period of absence, returning to work can help people with cancer resume the normal course of their lives, but it can also be difficult
Table of contents

People with cancer are not always prepared for what awaits them upon their return to work. They often mistakenly think that everything will be as before, but several changes should be considered such as their ability to perform tasks as they used to, the opinions or attitudes of their colleagues, and developments within the organization. To avoid disappointment, it’s better to anticipate problems to help you overcome them better.

Going back to work partly involves reconnecting with colleagues. It’s best to approach them yourself, even if you are tempted to do the opposite. Relationships between colleagues are not always ideal. Some people have no idea how to deal with a sick colleague and may feel uncomfortable facing you. Others will believe that someone who has been through cancer cannot be effective and accomplish the work required. Yet others will show little understanding and believe that their colleague will be able to work just as before.

Tips before you return to work

During cancer treatments, it is advisable to maintain links with your place of work by either calling colleagues or going to the office from time to time to let them know how your recovery is coming along and to demonstrate that you are still interested in what is happening in the organization. It will also facilitate your return and give you some much-needed continuity.

After your treatment, your doctor will probably give you some recommendations concerning your return to work. This can serve as a basis for discussion with your employer in deciding the best way to resume your duties.

Among other things, you might propose:

  • returning to work gradually, or changing your schedule to more flexible hours;
  • adapting your professional responsibilities, lightening your workload or delegating non- essential tasks;
  • occupying a function more compatible with your condition;
  • having the choice of doing some work at home;
  • limiting your contact with clients at the start.

Tips to follow when you return after cancer

  • Set up your workstation to make it comfortable and increase your efficiency. Bring a plant, a picture or an object has beautiful memories for you.
  • Take your time and pay attention to the physical and psychological signs of fatigue so as to avoid overexertion. Never overextend yourself and always keep some energy in reserve.
  • Don’t set the bar too high, because if you don’t reach your goals, you will be disappointed and discouraged, which could prolong your recovery period.
  • Don’t skip lunch or dinner, and don’t just grab a bite on the run.
  • Recognize your bad days, and accept that you are not always in top shape. Find yourself some pleasant diversion and resume that task later.
  • Progress by small steps rather than by leaps and bounds. By recognizing your achievements, step by step, you will increase your confidence in yourself.


The important thing is to think of yourself first, limit your stress and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Get some exercise, take a nap, observe a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet, and you’ll be well prepared to face your return to work.

Corporate Support Program

The Quebec Cancer Foundation’s Corporate Support Program offers personalized services and an approach specifically designed to provide support to business leaders and employees with cancer or who wish to support a sick colleague.

If you have a colleague with cancer and don’t know how to act, consult a copy of the Quebec Cancer Foundation brochure (in French only) right away.

For more information, contact the Info-Cancer professionals at 1-800-363-0063.


  • Buckman, Robert. Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence, Broquet, 2006, p. 154-155. Borrow this book
  • Gregoire, Melanie. Mylène Grégoire and Annick Thibodeau À la santé de votre retour au travail : 250 idées rafraîchissantes pour reprendre le contrôle de sa vie personnelle et professionnelle à la suite d’un arrêt de travail!, Un monde différent, 2009, pp. 129-149. Borrow this book
  • Online article « Après cancer, la vie »

Online article « Retour au travail après un cancer »


Need information, a listening ear, resources and to share?
Our Info-cancer staff is there to:

  • Answer your questions;
  • Refer you to resources in your area;
  • Provide you with useful documentation;
  • Put you in touch with someone who has gone through the same ordeal, whether you or a loved one.

Borrow one or more books on the subject for free:

Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm
1-800-363-0063 (free of charge)  |

After cancer


Medical follow-up

There are several factors influencing what follow-up care will be required upon completion of treatment: the type of cancer, its stage, the treatment received, your general state of health, the professional involved and even the hospital and the region of Quebec where the treatment was administered.

After cancer: Resuming an active life

When you’re undergoing cancer treatments, whether it’s chemotherapy or radiation therapy, your life revolves around daily or weekly medical appointments. After the whirlwind of treatments, which can last weeks, months or even over a year, life resumes it course. But how do you resume an active life?