Blog Post

Returning to Work After Breast Cancer

October 03, 2019

Lesa Deardorff, Freeman Director of Radiology Services
Returning to work post-treatment can be an emotional experience for many women who often feel conflicted between wanting to go on with life and being able to cope with the daily pressures.

The breast cancer treatments are over and now it’s time to return to work. Life after breast cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices. After a marathon of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment that may last six months to a year, women are eager to get back to a normal life again, and that often includes getting back to work. Transitioning from breast cancer treatment patient to breast cancer survivor is embracing the “new woman” and entering into the “new normal.”

Returning to work post-treatment can be an emotional experience for many women who often feel conflicted between wanting to go on with life and being able to cope with the daily pressures. On one hand, women look forward to returning to a work routine and on the other hand, they dread it. Adding to the awkwardness are the after-effects of treatment such as fatigue resulting from chemotherapy and/or the accumulated effects of other treatments as well as a phenomenon some people call “chemobrain” – mental changes such as memory deficits and the inability to focus.

Adding to the frustrating mix, co-workers tell survivors how they look and ask questions about treatment. How open women are with their co-workers about their breast cancer and health after treatment is a personal decision. Some co-workers will be understanding and offer help while others may be uncomfortable discussing it or resent that they had to take on extra duties on days when the person was absent. Others may ask intrusive questions about the breast cancer, the person’s health, why they’ve been gone or even avoid them. Based on the relationship with co-workers, women can decide if they want to share anything, what works best for them and their situation, think ahead about how they will handle other people’s reactions and have a plan for what and how much they want to share.

It’s important for women to make sure they’re medically cleared by their health care provider before returning to work. They can also talk with their employer about possible options, like flex-time, job sharing, working from home or other options that may help ease them back into the demands of a job. For some people, the transition to working full-time may be easy, and for others it may take some adjustment.

The benefits of going back to work include helping ladies keep their sense of who they are and how they fit in. It might even boost their self-esteem, not to mention their income. Returning to their job also reminds women that they have a life apart from breast cancer – they are a valued employee, a great boss or a trusted co-worker.

Sometimes breast cancer can make women feel isolated and lonely, and being around people can be a great comfort. Support groups, online chat forums and social media groups offer the chance to air challenges with others that have had breast cancer. This, too, helps with the healing process to speak openly and honestly about the post-surgery struggles.

The good news is, with time, little by little, most women start to feel like their regular selves once medications are completed and the exhaustion subsides. It takes time for the “new you” to settle in. Truly, time heals many wounds and having a job can divert attention away from the stressors of the breast cancer journey and allow women to refocus on other things in life and create their own “new normal.”


About the Author

Lesa Deardorff has worked at Freeman Health System for 32 years and served as director of radiology services for 16 years. She oversees the Freeman Radiology Department, which offers advanced technology and top-of-the-line ultrasound, x-ray, nuclear medicine, CT, PET/CT and mammography services. To learn more, visit or call 417.347.6611.