Cancer work and you
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Cancer work and you
You may run your own company or work as a freelancer, contractor, farmer or entrepreneur. You may be working on your own or employ other people. A major concern when you are diagnosed with cancer may be how, and if, you can keep your business running.
Making a decision about working
Many self-employed people with cancer find ways to have treatment while running a business. Depending on the business, self-employment can give you control over your work schedule. You may be able to work around treatment sessions and set aside the time needed for recovery.
Any decisions you make will depend on your individual circumstances. The type of cancer, its impact on your day-to-day function, the proposed treatment and potential side effects are all factors to consider. If you rely on your income or if your business has been a major focus of your life, taking time off or permanently stopping work may be a major concern.
If you aren’t sure what to do, talk to family or friends or a professional financial adviser about your options. These may include:
- checking existing insurance policies for entitlements, including any benefits payable through your superannuation
- claiming early entitlements from your super fund (make sure to get financial advice about how this will affect your retirement)
- talking to Centrelink about government benefits
- selling or scaling back your business.
Managing your business
To keep your business running, you may need a business plan to manage any changes. Talk to your health care team about what to expect from treatment so you can decide what you can handle.
These suggestions may help you combine work and treatment:
- Be realistic about how much work you can continue to do.
- Prioritise what aspects of working/owning your business are important to you and what you can let go or delegate.
- Decide what has to be done now and what can be left until later.
- Use your energy to do tasks you enjoy or that you must do yourself.
- Consider subcontracting, hiring temporary staff or asking friends in the same trade or profession to lend a hand.
- Ask for or accept any offers of help from family and friends.
- Consider working from home or changing your role.
- Let staff know what changes you make to keep the business running.
- If possible, aim to finish any high-priority or complicated work before you start treatment.
- Think about other ways to do your job. Could you travel less? Could you work from home more? Would it be practical to use technologies such as smartphones and video calls instead of in-person meetings? If you ship goods, could a fulfilment house handle this temporarily?
- Check any existing insurance policies for entitlements and let your insurance company know about changes to your work situation.
- Seek advice from any professional associations you belong to.
- Cancer Council may be able to help connect you to a legal or financial adviser. Call 13 11 20 to find out what services are available in your area and whether you are eligible for this assistance.
Telling clients about the cancer
You do not have to let your clients know you have cancer. Your instinct might be to hide the news of your diagnosis, but if you want to talk about it, you should decide who to tell and what to say. Let your clients know how your business will continue to meet ongoing commitments. Some people choose to tell only established clients.
Talking to your clients
- Be direct and explain what you know. For example, tell them your work hours and how to contact you. During treatment, you may want to suggest clients email you or make a time to talk.
- Communicate your abilities and emphasise your strengths with statements such as, “My hours may change, but the project will be under control and completed on time.”
- Try to keep a professional relationship with your client. You may not want to share any fears or insecurities.
- Think about alternative or flexible ways of working that could suit both your needs.
- If you have physical side effects such as hair loss, you may want to postpone meeting face-to-face. Use technology, such as email or conference calling, to stay in touch. If you have told the client about the cancer, you may feel comfortable with a face-to-face meeting.
- Be prepared for a range of reactions if you tell a client about your health. Some people will be compassionate; others may be more aloof.
- Some clients may choose to work with someone else.
- Consider subcontracting out some work. You could refer some of your clients to another business you trust, if you don’t think you will be able to meet your clients’ needs.
Telling employees about the cancer
You do not have to tell your employees that you have cancer. However, it may be worth thinking about how they will feel if you don’t tell them but they find out anyway. It might impact staff morale, cause them to worry more or be upset or wonder why you didn’t tell them what is happening. If you decide to let your employees know, you will need to consider what to tell them.
It is natural for your employees to be concerned about the impact of your diagnosis and treatment on their own future or job security. They may also be a source of support and come up with some options you hadn’t considered for managing any changes to the business caused by the cancer diagnosis.
Managing financial issues
For self-employed people who do not have paid leave, taking time off for cancer treatment may mean being without income for several weeks or months, which can be difficult.
Contact Cancer Council – For South Australians, Cancer Council SA may be able to organise financial advice or assistance. Call 13 11 20 to find out what services are available in your local area.
Consult a financial or business adviser – An adviser can help you look at your financial situation and come up with some strategies to help you manage your finances. To find a business adviser in your area, visit the Australian government’s Business website. You can find a financial adviser through the Financial Advice Association Australia. You could also talk through your situation with your accountant if you have one.
Consult a financial counsellor – A financial counsellor can help if you experience financial hardship. Visit the National Debt Helpline or call them on 1800 007 007 or the Rural Financial Counselling Service in your state or territory for free, confidential and independent financial counselling.
Look into claiming on other insurance policies – You may hold relevant policies, such as income protection insurance, trauma insurance or key person insurance.
Check your superannuation – Although self-employed people are not required by law to contribute to a super fund, many people have retirement savings. Check if you have insurance linked to your super fund, such as disability benefits, as you may be eligible to make a claim. In some cases, insurance benefits may be cut if no contributions have been made in 12 or 18 months, so check your fund details. Check if your super fund provides free financial advice.
Contact Centrelink – You may be eligible for benefits or pensions. There are different types of income support payments for people in financial hardship. Visit Services Australia or call them on 132 717. For information about the Farm Household Allowance, call the Farmer Assistance Hotline on 132 316 or visit the website.
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed June 2023 by the following expert content reviewers: Brooke Russell, Principal Occupational Therapist, WA Cancer Occupational Therapy, WA; Bianca Alessi, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; James Chirgwin, Physiotherapist, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Simon Gates, Barrister, Tasmanian Bar, TAS; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Kaylene Jacques, Director, People and Communications, Cancer Council NSW; Alex Kelly, Senior People Attraction Advisor, Human Resources, Allianz Australia Insurance, NSW; Legal reviewer; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Lesley McQuire, Consumer, Cancer Voices NSW.