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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer: Answers to Your Questions

How do you tell the kids? How can you stay calm? There are some questions your doctor can't answer. Here are insights from people who understand – other women with breast cancer.

How do I deal with my job?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with cancer from discrimination or layoffs if their company receives any federal funding. Most private employers follow those guidelines. Also, you'll want to check into your options for disability pay, use of sick leave, Social Security benefits, and the Family Medical Leave Act. (See Earning a Living.)

So the main question you need to answer is, what do you want to do about work?

One woman had never liked her job, and her husband was well-employed. After she got her diagnosis, she simply walked into work and quit. Other women liked their jobs and kept working throughout treatment. Still others took a year off despite the financial strain, and then returned to work. Again, spend time getting to know yourself so you'll know what's right for you.

When you tell your boss, be generous with yourself. Overestimate the time off you may need. Ask for a temporary part-time schedule. You can always come roaring back early if you feel good.

There's always some initial awkwardness with co-workers. It helps if your boss or a friendly co-worker tells the others so you don't have to retell your story 100 times! Even so, people are going to want to know how you feel, and you're going to have to deal with that.

Most women on the WebMD message boards who returned to work found that they needed to break the ice so everyone could feel comfortable. Some went back joking. One older woman even asked the younger women, "You want to see?" and off they would troop to the bathroom. Don't forget that every woman fears breast cancer and is curious. Others simply said, "I'm back and I feel OK most days, but please, don't ask me every day. I want to talk about something other than breast cancer."

You might want to use one close co-worker as your town crier. Find someone you're comfortable talking with, fill her (or him) in on the details you want passed along.

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