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Cope with chemotherapy at work

If you have cancer, you may find yourself undergoing chemotherapy. This treatment can help manage or even cure your disease, but it can also cause a range of side effects.

Some people work while on chemotherapy. Whether you can work and how you may fare on the job depends on many things, including the exact treatment you’re getting, your reaction to it, and the nature of your work.

The most common side effect of chemotherapy is fatigue. Others include anemia, nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, hair loss, increased risk of bleeding and for infections, and sunburn.

Be prepared and flexible

Planning ahead can help you prepare for ongoing changes to your workday. Consider this advice:

  • Ask your healthcare provider what side effects to expect and how treatment might affect your job before you start chemotherapy. Be specific when telling them about what you do at work.
  • Talk with your employer about options for adjusting your schedule, reducing the amount of time you work, and working from home, depending on your needs and job.
  • Schedule treatments late in the day or just before the weekend when you can.
  • If possible, alter your routine so you’ll handle the most important tasks when you feel best.
  • Ask what modification can be made to help you manage side effects at work. For example, being closer to the restroom or using a stool if you normally stand.
  • Adjust your personal workspace for comfort and convenience. For instance, if you sit at a desk, put your computer, printer, phone, and other key materials where you can reach them easily.

Keep up with healthy habits

These strategies might help you feel better whether you’re working during chemotherapy or not:

  • Get enough rest. Try to sleep at least 8 hours and take 10 to 15-minute naps if needed.
  • Exercise. Ask your provider about safe ways you can stay active.
  • Eat enough protein and calories to repair tissues, maintain weight, and help fight infections.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques to ease stress and pain.

Call your provider or nurse with any questions about your treatment or its side effects. Your provider may be able to change your medicine or treatment schedule or prescribe medications that help prevent or ease some side effects.

A wide-ranging treatment

The term chemotherapy covers more than 100 drugs. They differ in chemical makeup, what types of cancer they treat, the way they’re taken, how they work, and their side effects. While chemotherapy is sometimes used as a standalone treatment, doctors may also recommend surgery, radiation, or other drugs.

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