Overview

Young women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) may face unique challenges when it comes to work, especially if they’re just getting started in their careers.

For some women, the effect is minimal as their boss may agree to a flexible schedule. Some women may be able to take an unpaid leave of absence if their partner’s career is enough to support the family for the time being. For others, managing work and treatment at the same time may pose a bigger challenge.

After your diagnosis, you’ll probably have questions about your career. Here are some answers to common questions you may have about working with MBC.

The decision to work or not work after your diagnosis is entirely up to you.

If you feel up to it, you may choose to continue to work throughout treatment. This may bring a greater sense of normalcy if certain aspects of your life stay the same as before your diagnosis. You may need to adjust your schedule to accommodate doctor’s appointments and treatment regimens, though.

You can ask for work accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA allows you to make reasonable changes to your job conditions to manage health issues, such as your schedule, work location, time off, or duties.

Many companies also offer Employee Assistance Programs to their employees for help with personal problems. The human resources department at your company can help you understand which benefits are available to you if you choose to continue to work.

If you qualify as having a disability, any private employer with 15 or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodations” under the ADA.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during a one-year period without the threat of losing your job or health insurance benefits. You can take the leave all at once or break it up into segments over the course of a year. The FMLA only covers companies with 50 or more employees and you need to be with your company full time for at least a year to be eligible.

Keep in mind that you may be required to disclose some medical information to your employer in order to take advantage of these programs. If you’re planning to apply, be sure to ask your doctor for a letter detailing your diagnosis and inability to work.

Short-term and long-term disability insurance offered by employers allows you to take time off work and still receive a percentage of your income (between 40 and 70 percent of your base salary) in the event of an illness that keeps you from working. Short-term disability lasts for about 3 to 6 months. Long-term disability needs approval by the government or your employer.

Another option is to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is intended to assist disabled workers who have paid Social Security taxes while SSI is for disabled individuals with very little income.

The Social Security Administration considers an adult to be disabled if:

  • you’re unable to do the work you were doing prior to becoming disabled
  • you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from learning how to do a different type of work
  • your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death

You can apply online for disability benefits here. It can take months to receive a decision. But breast cancer that is inoperable, unresectable, or includes distant metastases usually meets the requirements for compassionate allowance.

If you qualify for compassionate allowance, the approval process for receiving this aid will be expedited.

At first, you don’t actually have to tell anyone at work about your diagnosis unless you want to, and that includes your boss.

But if it becomes apparent that the cancer or its treatment will begin to interfere with your responsibilities at work or your schedule, you may wish to inform your boss of the situation. If you plan to make use of disability leave, you’ll be required to disclose some information to your employer.

Consider scheduling a meeting with your boss along with a human resources employee. If you want to keep working during treatment, you should explain to your boss that you’ll do everything you can to perform the required tasks of your job.

It’s illegal for an employer to treat their employees differently due to health status. You’re protected from discrimination based on your health under the ADA, but only if your employer is aware of your health condition.

While undergoing breast cancer treatment, you may experience issues with memory or other cognitive effects. The added stress of living with cancer and going through treatment can make it difficult to concentrate.

Try these tips for staying focused at work:

  • Keep a work journal to jot down any important conversations or ideas you have that you want to remember.
  • Use your phone’s voice recorder to record meetings so you can listen to them later on.
  • Track your appointments on paper and on a digital calendar on your phone or computer.
  • Set reminders.
  • Write down your deadlines and always check if you have a doctor’s appointment the day something is due.
  • Make a to-do list or a checklist for projects.

Disability insurance or social and supplemental disability should replace a portion of your income if you’re unable to work due to MBC. After two years on SSDI, you’ll likely qualify for Medicare. You can find out your estimated benefits on ssa.gov.

If this isn’t enough to help you get by, consider contacting cancer organizations that offer financial assistance. Some examples include:

If your claim is denied, you have 60 days to appeal the decision. You’ll also have an opportunity to correct any mistakes that may have been made in your application.

If you’re still denied disability insurance after submitting an appeal, you should consider contacting a lawyer who specializes in handling these types of situations. The National Cancer Legal Services Network offers free or low-cost legal help to people affected by cancer.

It’s ultimately your decision whether to work or not following your diagnosis. You’re protected against discrimination under the ADA and may be able to request reasonable accommodations to your work schedule and duties under this law. There’s also the possibility of taking short- or long-term disability leave as you seek treatment without having to worry about losing your career.

If you have to leave your job permanently, government aid in the form of social security benefits and Medicare are some options to help you keep up with your finances.