Helping people balance work and cancer

The balancing act between personal and work life is difficult enough at the best of times without taking into account something as life changing as a cancer diagnosis.

However with an increasing number of people in Scotland living with cancer, juggling going work alongside healthcare and treatment is something which is becoming more and more common.

That’s why last year, Macmillan Cancer Support set up its Work Service at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre within the Western General Hospital Edinburgh. The service offers workplace advice, support and vocational rehabilitation services for anyone affected by cancer and is set up so that people can self-refer.

Support at the drop–in cancer clinic centre ranges from giving answers to basic work questions – such as ‘My employer wants to see my medical records. Is this allowed?’ to concerns about the fine print surrounding work policies, sick pay, pensions and compassionate leave for carers.

The service is also required to provide more expert help and assessment if a job is at risk. This is done through occupational therapy assessment of workability aimed at helping both employees and employers agree on a return to work plan.

By encouraging people to think about what they want their work/life balance to be like either for themselves or someone close to them at an early stage in a cancer diagnosis, the service aims to address any potential problems or misunderstandings which could occur between an employee and employer before they escalate into something more serious. And, with this in mind, prevention and early intervention is essential.

In fact, on discovering that there is help for them out there, most people’s immediate response to the Work and Cancer service is one of relief. Relief in knowing there is support which they can access and relief in knowing they don’t have to face the (often daunting) task of talking to their employer or navigating a return to work at a very stressful time alone.

Because whether they feel ready to return to work or not, people want to know their rights and what support and help they are able to ask for from their employer. Employers in turn get the support they need to get their valued worker back.

Although still in its infancy (the consultant occupational therapist post is funded for two years), demand for the service is such that it’s clear it’s only beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the amount of people looking for support. And as the service continues to develop over the coming months we hope it can act as an inspiration so work support is offered to people with cancer across the country.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Work Service is open 10am – 1pm, Monday to Friday, at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the Western General Hospital. Support is also offered outside of these hours on: 0131 537 9579.

The service covers the needs of all Lothian cancer patients and also supports patients from Fife, Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.

By Gerard Mcfeely

About Gerard: Gerard is a Macmillan Consultant Occupational Therapist at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. He specialises in vocational rehabilitation (getting people back to work) for cancer and other long term health conditions.

Watch our video with people talking about how they dealt with work and their cancer diagnosis.