Your experience with breast cancer may have led you to think about your financial security and practical issues like your health insurance, employment and daily commitments. You still have the same basic rights to employment, health care and financial security as any other Canadian resident. You have a future and every reason in the world to think about it and plan for it.
The following information is given to provide you with support as you face the practical and financial issues of life when active breast cancer treatment ends:
Help with medical expenses
Your ongoing cancer care may involve medical and drug costs that are not covered by your provincial or territorial health insurance plan. These may include prescriptions for pain relief, other medications or creams for treating the effects of radiation therapy.
You may be able to seek help for these costs from drug benefit or assistive device programs in your province or territory; private insurance through your employer or a partner’s employer; or federal programs. Speak to your health care team for information or a referral to a social worker for advice.
• Issues to consider. You will want to think about the timing of your return to work (full-time or gradual) and the suitability and nature of your work, in terms of how you feel now. Consider the impact any side effects you’re experiencing may have on your ability to work: physical side effects including mobility or fatigue; emotional side effects such anxiety, fear or depression; and cognitive (brain-related) side effects, such as lack of concentration or mental fatigue.
• Self-employment. Self-employed workers face unique challenges during an illness like breast cancer. It is likely that your work has been disrupted, and you may have lost clients and contacts. You may also be facing financial challenges due to a loss of income and may have no private insurance to help you.
• Dealing with co-workers’ reactions. People react differently to ill health. Some co-workers may fear that you are no longer healthy. Some may even worry that you are unable to do your share of the work. Keep in mind that some of your co-workers may not want to talk openly about your experience—or know how to ask you about it. Observe their reactions and use your judgment in responding.
• Talking to your employer. If you have side effects that you think may affect your ability to do your job, you may wish to speak with your employer. The following tips may help:
Provide your employer with a note from your health care provider about your limitations and how long you may be affected by them.
Work with your employer to set reasonable goals you know you can achieve.
Explore your options: for example, a change in responsibilities, flexible hours or a gradual return to work.
Find out about your company’s policies on sick leave, disability leave, flexible hours and work re-training options.
• Employment discrimination. Workplace issues are sometimes reported by women who return to work after their breast cancer treatment. These include demotion, denial of promotion, undesirable transfer, denial of benefits or hostility. These kinds of discrimination are often difficult to prove.
Seek support from your health care team. This may include referral for counselling to help you make the transition back to the workplace; referral to an occupational therapist to assess your work environment, your capabilities and the demands of your job; or a letter from your health care provider about your short-term and long-term health situation.
Know your rights. You are protected by provincial and federal laws that protect employee rights. Find out about your employer’s procedures for settling employment issues.
Keep written records of incidents at work. It can help to keep a written record of events as they happen. Also try to record positive comments as well as those you think are discriminatory.
Finding a new job
• The same laws that protect Canadians against workplace discrimination also apply to the hiring of new employees.
On job applications and in interviews, employers may only ask job-related questions. They are not allowed to ask about medical history, but can ask for a medical certificate to prove your ability to perform the duties of the job.
You may wish to provide your health care provider’s name as a reference or offer to provide a letter from them about your ability to work.
Use your resumé to focus on your skills and experience. However, be prepared to explain any gaps in your employment history.
Obtaining financial assistance
• If your illness has resulted in loss of employment, and you have very little or no income and limited assets, you may be eligible for financial assistance through community resources or programs offered by your province, territory or the federal government. Speak to your health care provider about being referred to a social worker for advice about your options for financial assistance.
• In Canada, if you have had breast cancer, your pre-existing life insurance policy will be honoured for your lifetime if it is a whole-life policy and for the remaining amount of the term if it is a term (or temporary) policy.
• Purchasing a new life insurance policy is a different matter. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will find that your eligibility for insurance policies (including life insurance or critical illness coverage) will be different from someone who has not had breast cancer.
You may find that you are offered a special class rate, often with an expensive monthly premium (payment) or that you are declined coverage. Find out if it would help your case if you provided more information.
To find the best package available, you may wish to work with an insurance broker. It will be important to make them fully aware of your health history, including your treatment for breast cancer.
Financial and legal planning
• If you have a lawyer, financial advisor and/or tax accountant, you may wish to discuss the affects and implications of your illness on your finances and legal affairs.
• If you are in debt and it is more than you can handle, speak directly to your creditors, mortgage holder or your landlord. You may also wish to ask a health care provider to refer you to a social worker for advice on your options and community resources available to you.
• You will need to check with a lawyer if you write a will, make changes to your will or transfer any assets you may have. If you are in a lesbian relationship, you may wish to consider providing your partner with power of attorney for health care.
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation-Ontario Region & Princess Margaret Hospital. (2010). Getting Back on Track. Life after breast cancer treatment. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.