How to address chemo brain at work?


Question from Canuck: Is it better to confess to a boss that you are experiencing chemo brain (cognitive loss) or just try to cope and cover it up (make detailed lists, etc.)? Will an employer see this as a sign of weakness?
Answers - Patricia A. Ganz, M.D. This is a very good question because discrimination in employment is still a problem for patients with cancer, unfortunately. I'm not sure where you are living. If it's the US you have the Americans With Disabilities Act which is supposedly available to protect patients with a cancer history and diagnosis against discrimination at work and accommodations are supposed to be made for disabilities or limitations that a person may have as a result of their illness. The particular kinds of cases either where someone is fatigued or has trouble concentrating are very difficult sometimes for the employee to get accommodation for. I'm helping some lawyers who are defending women in the situation, and not all employers are sympathetic to the situation. I think it really depends on what kind of an organization you're working in and how comfortable you feel. If your employer knows you had cancer and may have some needs for modification to your schedule or activities, then you should be direct and speak to the Human Resources supervisor in the organization. If you're in a small office or employed by a small business, this may be more difficult. One of the challenges is that women who have survived breast cancer treatment often look well and people think that they should be doing everything that they did before diagnosis. But we know that there may be many subtle physical and emotional scars that may limit the ability to do work at the same level that it was performed before the cancer diagnosis.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Let your doctor be your advocate. A carefully written note from your doctor to your employer, with your permission, can be very effective. A letter could help you cut back your hours for a finite period of time with a plan for reevaluation. Shifting some of the communications from your own shoulders over to your doctor can be a relief to you, and your boss might be more responsive to a more "authoritative" correspondence. An offer to your boss to talk to your doctor if he/she has any additional questions also works well. In my professional experience, many of my patients make this offer to their boss and nearly no boss ever picks up the phone to question the recommendations I've made. Ultimately, it eases your worries about your work performance, so this is a good approach.

On Wednesday, August 16, 2006, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Thinking and Memory ChallengesPatricia A. Ganz, M.D. and  moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about the memory and concentration challenges that can happen during and after breast cancer treatment.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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