Going Back to Work After Bladder Cancer Surgery

Many patients consider going back to work after bladder cancer surgery.  Going back to work after a radical cystectomy can help the person with bladder cancer keep a sense of who he/she is and how they fit in.  In fact, some studies showed that going back to work boosts self-esteem and also increases income, which reduces the emotional and economic burden of bladder cancer treatment and follow-up care.  Because cancer can make a person feel lonely and isolated, returning to work can help patients realize a life apart from cancer and that they are a valued employee and trusted co-worker. 

Before Taking a Leave of Absence

Before starting your bladder cancer treatment, if you are thinking about taking a leave of absence from work, you should ensure that your position will still be available to you after completing treatment. For some, going back to work full-time may be easy, but for others, it may take some adjustment.  Take your time to think about whether full-time or other possible options such as part-time work or working from home is better and easier for you at least in the beginning.

It is very important for you to:

  • Know your rights.  Legal protections include the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Employees should know how they are protected by their employer and how they are protected on a State and Federal level.
  • Know how your job is protected through specific employer policies, short- and long-term disability insurance, sick time, and flex time.

During Your Recuperation

Before going back to work, it is wise to keep your employer informed of your status and your possible accommodations when returning to your workplace.  It is also essential that patients receive medical clearance from their physicians before returning to work.  Ask your physician about modified work schedules, as well as any restrictions; especially if your job entails heavy lifting or repetitive motions.

Patients considering going back to work will need to speak with their employer concerning any reasonable accommodations that may be needed a soon as possible, even if only temporary.  These accommodations may include a manipulated workspace, a modified work schedule, job-sharing, and the possibility of a temporary change of jobs within the company.  It is important to get any accommodation arrangements from your employer in writing before returning to work.  If you perform physical labor, your physician may tell you that you may resume full physical activity after 6 weeks.  Make sure they clarify this with respect to your specific job requirements.  Most people with bladder cancer should NOT expect that they will be immediately able to go back to their PRE-cystectomy level of activity.

Returning to Work

Going back to work after your treatment can be very stressful.  You will need to know how to curb and cope with long-term stress in the workplace.  If you have an ileal conduit, this stress may include learning how to take care of “leaks” around your stoma during work hours.  It helps to identify private restroom facilities in your workplace that you can use to change your pouching system or perform self-catheterization of your neobladder.  Ask your employer about the installation of a full-length mirror in the private restroom for your use.  Don’t forget to take your ostomy “emergency kit” to work with you.  You never know when you may need a new pouching system.  You may be required to request an extended bathroom break to care for your urinary diversion.

Discuss the need for possible time off to attend future doctor appointments or therapy sessions.

You may want to “educate” your co-workers about your medical condition and possible limitations in order to maintain workplace harmony.  Based on your relationship with your co-workers, you can decide how much information you want to share about your treatment and conditions with them. If it helps, you may contact BCAN for free copies of Bladder Cancer Basics.

Develop your “support network” of family and friends before returning to work.

Three key components can ease the transition back to work:  Identify the “voice” and what might make you feel worried about going back to work that may be inside your head. Create a distraction or coping plan or a relaxation plan to help reduce your worries and prepare for going back to work.  It also helps if you can find a quiet place to rest for a short time during the working day.