Section 4: Living With Breast Cancer: Family, Friends and Workplace Issues


  • The goal of this section is to provide you with information to help you talk to your friends and family, as well as offer resources and information about your rights as an employee during and after cancer treatment.

  • You may feel isolated and lonely when you are first diagnosed with breast cancer. However, you can build a support system of friends, family, your spouse or partner, and other people (including cancer survivors).

  • Because this can be such a difficult and emotional experience, surround yourself with the people who love and support you and consider removing people who bring negativity and stress into your life, at least temporarily.

  • When returning to work, talk to your doctor about how your cancer treatments can affect your job. Consider your workload and talk to your boss if you have any concerns about your tasks. Meet regularly with your boss and/or coworkers to discuss your progress on tasks.

  • According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, no employer can discriminate against someone with a disability. If you are going through breast cancer treatment and are experiencing side effects (e.g., fatigue, nausea, vomiting) that could affect your job, you could be qualified as having a disability, and you can request “reasonable accommodations” at your workplace. You do not have to describe your specific health situation when making a request.

  • Advance directives are legal documents used to help you make health care decisions in the case of a serious accident or illness and identifies the trusted person who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so for yourself. It is important to have these documents in place and review them from time to time so that you and your family can be familiar with your treatment preferences.

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Because many of our women have been raised to be strong and care for others, it can be hard to see yourself as the one who needs help. You will have time to be strong and help others, but first you need to get through your own hard times. Remember that you have control over how much or how little you want to be supported and WHO you want to receive help from. Surround yourself with people you love and who love you. As much as possible, spend time with people who listen and who care about your feelings—people who make you happy.


Talking about your experiences with breast cancer is not easy! You may wonder how much to tell other people and who you can trust. Sometimes, you may be surprised by the reactions that you get from family members or friends. There could be times when you just do not want to talk about cancer at all. Or you may dislike having to repeat your story again and again.

Some women find it helpful to work with their family members to establish a “family care team.” A family care team is when you and your family members acknowledge each family member’s strengths and weaknesses and uses those to determine how each family member can best help you.

Here are some ideas that may make it easier to talk about your diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare.

  • Feel free to choose what you will say to any one person. If you feel that someone is being nosy rather than caring, you can say calmly that you do not want to talk about personal matters.

  • Especially when your energy is limited, decide how you would like to share information and updates with others. Some people like to share information via e-mail, social networking sites, blogs, over the phone, in person, or through a trusted friend or relative who is your spokesperson.


At most jobs, communication is critical. This is especially true when you return to work after cancer treatment. Consider your workload and figure out what communication is reasonable for you, and then talk to your boss about how you plan to complete your assigned tasks. Discuss your work schedule if it will be different than it was before your treatment. Meet regularly with your supervisor (and perhaps other coworkers) about your progress with your tasks. Most importantly, remember that it is okay to ask for help when you need it.

Remember that if you are a cancer survivor or have recently been diagnosed with cancer, it is important to know how the law protects you and your current or future job. You have legal rights at work. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—a national law—it is illegal to discriminate in employment against a person with a disability.


Advance directives are legal documents used to help make health care decisions in the case of a serious accident or illness, no matter your age. They are meant to be used when you are too ill to make your own health care decisions (e.g., when someone is in a coma).

The three main types of advance directives are below:

  • Living wills.

    A document that lists the kinds of treatments you would like.
  • Medical or health care power of attorney (POA).

    A document that assigns a specific person—your health care agent—to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order.

    A request not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing

Click here for more in-depth information on Employment Rights.

Section 4: Living With Breast Cancer: Family, Friends and Workplace Issues

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African American YBCS Survivor Quote

“I am a 49-year-old breast cancer survivor. I have been unemployed for over a year now and relying on my family as much as possible for moral and financial support. I am so used to being independent and self-sufficient, but not anymore… I don’t believe anything could have prepared me for this journey I must continue to go through for a while.”