After completing bowel cancer treatment, your focus may shift to returning to work. Give yourself enough time to recover from your bowel cancer surgery and/or treatment and don’t feel pressured into returning to work before you are ready.

 Many patients describe a change in their worldview after having faced bowel cancer, resulting in their priorities shifting, especially in relation to their career goals and their definition of success.

Others express hesitation about returning to work due to fears of recurrence, a decreased sense of self-efficacy, and general anxiety related to re-integrating after being away.

With these challenges in mind, it may be hard to see the positive side of returning to work.  

But it can be reassuring to resume your previous routine and get back to 'normality' after living through the disruption that cancer causes.

Work can also provide financial independence, a sense of purpose and a boost to your self-esteem.

In general, working is good for your health and returning to work can contribute to your overall wellbeing and recovery by providing an important source of friendship and social interaction, and something to think about other than your health.


Returning to work

When you do return, you should ensure that you are given appropriate duties and assistance while you recover.

Employers have an obligation to help you return-to-work, including making reasonable adjustments to the workplace and ensuring you aren’t treated unfavorably because of your illness.

You may find that you tire easily or have changes in bladder and bowel functioning; speak with your employer about possible options such as flextime, job sharing, or working from home.

Options like these may help ease your mind and body back into the demands of your job.

It is important to be patient and take care of yourself.



Talk to your medical team

Your medical team can advise you on the likelihood of your treatment and/or surgery affecting your ability to work, as well as when you will be ready to return-to-work.

The stage of bowel cancer and the treatment you had, as well as the type of job you hold, will all be factors in the timing of your return-to-work.

If your job is stressful or physically demanding, you may need to wait longer before returning to work.

Your doctor will fill out a Certificate of Capacity form with you which is like a medical certificate but includes details of your illness, expected time off work and any work restrictions that may enable you to return-to-work or stay at work.

Your initial Certificate of Capacity can only be obtained from a doctor and cannot be issued for longer than 14 calendar days.

You must continue to obtain valid Certificates of Capacity until you are able to return to your pre-illness duties and hours.

Ongoing Certificates of Capacity are usually valid for up to 28 calendar days unless otherwise approved, and can be obtained from your doctor.


Meet with your employer

Returning to work is a team effort and communication between everyone involved in your return-to-work is essential.

Talk to your employer about planning your return-to-work and the types of duties you will be able to do when you return.

It can be helpful to talk to your employer shortly after you receive your cancer diagnosis and organize regular meetings or phone calls, so they know how you are doing.

You may also want to develop a written plan with your doctor or cancer care nurse that can serve as a guide for you and your employer regarding what you can consider to be reasonable goals and timeframes for your recovery and return-to-work.

You may be surprised by how supportive your employer will be.

By opening the line of communication early, you can assist them in managing your role and job allocations more effectively upon your return.


Return-to-work plan

A return-to-work plan is delivered according to medical guidelines.

The plan allows you to return-to-work in a safe and timely manner without exclusions due to your illness.

This might mean when you return-to-work you start on reduced hours and slowly build back up to your normal working week.

Alternatively, your role might be altered depending on the nature of the work you do.

This is done for the purpose of returning you to work successfully, in a supportive manner, with your health being the focus.

It is important to discuss the types of medications you might be on at the time of your return-to-work, because specific medications may not be suitable for those who are shift workers, causing a greater risk for your safety and those around you.


Realistic expectations

It is important you set realistic expectations for yourself when working towards returning to work.

There are several factors you need to consider when recovering from bowel cancer, such as your emotional state, your physical limitations, fatigue levels after treatment or surgery, any financial concerns regarding sick leave and annual leave (or having no leave at all), and the flexibility of your roster.

All these factors, as well as your cancer diagnosis, are important and can cause concern throughout your recovery.

If you set realistic expectations from the beginning, it will make it easier for you mentally and physically.

In general, the longer a person is away from work the harder it is to return.

It is very important that you and your employer address any barriers to your return-to-work as early and effectively as possible.



Additional support may be available through your employer, so be sure to ask if they offer resources such as a formal return-to-work management program, to help you make the transition.

It’s also worth asking if they offer access to a consultation with a qualified mental health professional through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with whom you can confidentially discuss your adjustment back to the workplace.

Loved ones can also be an important source of support during recovery and when preparing to return to work.

In addition, you may find it useful to speak with someone who has been through bowel cancer and is going through or has gone through a similar situation.

Bowel Cancer Australia's Peer-to-Peer Support Network is a voluntary community of people affected by bowel cancer, whether personally or via a family member.

It is Australia's only national bowel cancer support group for bowel cancer patients and loved ones.

Our nurses can put you in contact with someone who has had bowel cancer and returned to work, to share their experience.

To find out more, visit our webpage.

You can also call the Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline on 1800 555 494 to speak with a Bowel Care Nurse – we are here to support you.