Returning to School or Work After Cancer

Approved by the Lineagotica Editorial Board, 10/2017

Watch the Moving Forward video on School Concerns, adapted from this content.

After treatment for cancer, many people look forward to returning to school or work. They hope to:

  • Reconnect with colleagues and friends

  • Focus on something other than cancer

  • Get involved in interesting and challenging projects

  • Regain a sense of “normal”

Returning to school

This time of transition may feel overwhelming. But preparation may ease your anxiety. Consider taking these steps:

Meet with school staff ahead of time. When planning to return to school, you may need to meet with staff at your school to arrange for your return:

  • School advisors can help coordinate your return to school. They can also help you explore available health, financial aid, and career planning resources.

  • Academic advisors can discuss your course choices and progress toward your degree.

  • Medical staff in the student health center can talk with you about your cancer treatment, current health status, and expected needs for follow-up care.

  • Teachers and other educational staff can help you address any learning and classroom difficulties. Federal laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), allow students with disabilities to receive special accommodations. These may include extended time to complete tests, audio textbooks, free tutoring, or modified housing. To receive these accommodations, the student must first make a request, and all disabilities must be documented by a medical professional.

Make a slow and smooth adjustment. It is natural to want to jump right in and get back to your normal schedule. But going back to school can be physically and emotionally tiring. Take it easy for a while, and do not overdo things. Your health is still the most important priority. Consider taking these steps:

  • Think about visiting school before going back full time or part time. For example, attend a few parties or campus events, or spend some time with your friends on campus.

  • Ask your friends to fill you in on any changes on campus. And ask someone to meet you on campus the first few days.

  • Be prepared for questions about your cancer experience and know what you are going to say. Also, be prepared for insensitive comments or questions. Try not to take these comments personally.

  • Consider joining a support group for adults with cancer who may share similar experiences.

Returning to work

If you have taken time off from work for cancer treatment, returning may seem both exciting and overwhelming. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Talk with your doctor about whether you are ready to return to work.

  • Find out if your employer has a formal "return to work" or disability management program. Also, ask about:

    • Flexible work options

    • Job accommodations you may need

    • Your insurance and benefits coverage

  • Decide what you want to tell your coworkers and how. You may decide to have private conversations with a few close coworkers. Or you may find it easier to tell everyone at the same time during a meeting.

  • You may have difficulty transitioning back to work. Talk with a counselor or join a support group to learn from the experiences of other cancer survivors.

Learn more about going back to work after cancer.

Related Resources

3 Tips for Finding a New Job After Cancer

Resources for Young Adults

More Information

Cancer and Careers

Job Accommodation Network