Written by Samantha Maxwell

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a time to take a critical look at this illness that affects 12 percent of women in the US. Most of the time, this month of awareness focuses on prevention, routine checkups, and treatment. But all too often, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are left with questions that go largely unaddressed.

Perhaps one of the most stressful parts of dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is figuring out how the illness will affect your career. Many women fear that their diagnosis will result in a career setback or even unemployment. So, how exactly are you supposed to handle a breast cancer crisis in your career?

Take Some Time

After you receive a diagnosis, it may seem important to take certain steps immediately. For example, you might find it necessary to tell your boss about your diagnosis, take time off, or even leave your job. However, many women find that it is in their best interest to take things slow at first. After all, you do not yet know how breast cancer will affect your life or your ability to work, and you don’t want to make any rash decisions when you are stressed and scared. Take a deep breath, try to relax, and take some time to really think through your situation.

If you have been diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer, there is a good chance that you will be able to continue working throughout your illness with or without some accommodations. Depending on your work situation, you may or may not decide to tell your boss about your condition. Remember: you don’t have to tell your employer about your diagnosis. If you feel like your job may be at risk, you are more than entitled to keep this information to yourself.

However, if you feel secure and confident in your position and need to ask for accommodations, you may want to approach your employer to tell him or her about your diagnosis. Then, the two of you can work together to come up with a plan.

To Work or Not to Work?

Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer wonder if they should continue working through their illness. It’s usually a good idea to wait to see how you feel after you start receiving treatment to determine whether you can continue to work or not. While it may seem like it’s in your best interest to quit working and focus on your health, that’s not necessarily the case. Why? Well, if you take pride in your job and career, you could feel like you are losing a significant part of your life if you quit your job after your diagnosis. This is already a period of undue stress in your life, and a further break from your everyday routine can result in depression or a lost sense of purpose. Some women find it helpful to continue to work so they have something else to focus on during their treatment.

In addition, you have to consider how leaving your job will affect your finances. Not only will you no longer have a paycheck coming in, but depending on your job, you may also lose your health insurance. This financial burden can add to the stress of a diagnosis, which can result in poorer health.

However, you have to remember that the most important thing at this point is to focus on your health. Now may not be the time to take on a new project that will have you working late into the night or causing you a significant amount of stress. Some women may decide that leaving their job is the best thing to do. If that’s the case for you, it’s important not to feel guilty. You have to do what’s best for you, and your health comes first.

Get Some Perspective

As terrible as a breast cancer diagnosis may be, it can also be a time to reevaluate your priorities. Are you working too hard and neglecting your health? Do you take enough time to care for your physical, mental, and spiritual health? Not only will a focus on yourself and your health help you recover from breast cancer faster, but it can also help you in your career. While a cancer diagnosis will never be a good thing, it may give you the perspective you need to more carefully balance your health and your career moving forward.

Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer—or any illness, for that matter—can have a drastic effect on both your personal life and career. But you can take comfort in the fact that many women have been there before you, and they stand with you in solidarity. The warrior mentality you already bring to your career can play a significant role in overcoming your illness and moving forward with your life, which is the best thing you can do.

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