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Cancer and Your Career

Shifting Your Priorities


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Whether or not you’ve taken time off from work, you’ll want things to quickly return to normal once your treatments are finished. Your bosses and coworkers will expect the same from you, as well. But cancer has a profound, life-altering effect on many people, which can create a “new normal.” You may find that your work-related attitudes and priorities have changed, or perhaps you’re still too emotionally or physically drained to resume your previous work pace. As you get acquainted with your “new normal” on the job, consider the following suggestions.

Slow Down
If it’s too challenging to resume your frenetic work habits, focus on one responsibility at a time instead of multi-tasking. It’s okay if it takes you longer than usual to return non-urgent phone calls and e-mails or if the filing piles up a bit. During this transition period, try to feel confident that you can do your job again, instead of feeling stressed that you don’t compare to your former self.

Take Regular Breaks
Listen to your body instead of pushing yourself too hard. Break for lunch daily, and take additional short breaks throughout the day. Go for a 10-minute walk outside whenever possible – the fresh air and exercise should help clear your mind and boost your energy levels so you can focus on the task at hand when you return to your desk.

Write Down Your Priorities
Use this list to figure out what your most important tasks are, then focus on completing those first. When you aren’t feeling well, reread your priorities to remind yourself that you don’t need to live up to other people’s unrealistic expectations, actual or imagined, you just need to do what’s on your list.

Focus on the Familiar
If your work-related goals have changed so much that you decide to embark on a new career path, it can be helpful to return to your old position for a while before interviewing for a different job. Regaining your confidence as a full-time employee in a familiar environment can be invaluable.

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To learn more about returning to work after a cancer diagnosis, and for free informational materials dealing with cancer in the workplace, visit www.CancerAndCareers.org.

Reprinted with permission from Cancer and Careers, copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2011.