Breast cancer, work and you - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Breast cancer, work and you

Breast cancer, work and you

Breast cancer, work and you

Natalie James, lead nurse at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, addresses some common concerns about how a breast cancer diagnosis might impact your work.

Breast cancer is never planned and even the simplest of treatments can cause major disruption to work.

I recently spoke to a group of women about their experience of working following a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The financial struggle is real, but help is available

One woman told me about the financial pressures she felt during treatment when she lost her income and study grant. She was concerned that it would take years to get back on track financially, and was also uncertain about how her future employment opportunities might be impacted.

Cancer, like many illnesses, is expensive, particularly when you’re young or if you don’t have financial reserves. The costs can often be ongoing. Support with costs, even for small expenses, can make a difference. We often hear of groups of friends or colleagues getting together for a fundraiser. Activities like this really lift the spirits of the person with breast cancer and they’re equally rewarding for the team helping them.

There is also a range of financial support available from the government that people are entitled to. These include schemes for subsidised healthcare costs, travel assistance and payments from Work and Income. You or your whānau can read more about this on the ‘Financial support’ section of our website.

The support of colleagues matters

Another woman shared her experience of taking leave from her long-standing job at a large company while having treatment. After six months away, she felt ready to return to work. But she realised in that entire time, only three of her colleagues had reached out to see how she was or ask if they could help with anything.

Although she had enjoyed her job before the diagnosis, she decided she wasn’t interested in working at a company that didn’t offer her support. Even something as small as asking her how she was.

It can be so important to know that you are valued by your colleagues for the work that you do. Our factsheet on ‘Supporting a colleague with breast cancer’ outlines some tips your colleagues might find helpful.

Considerations for employers

A few women spoke about needing support from their employer, and some brought up the importance of confidentiality and not disclosing their diagnosis to colleagues.

Some viewed the return to work as a welcome relief, they were looking forward to having something to think about other than cancer. One woman explained how rather than seeking change, she welcomed the stability her current career and employer offered her.

A few women raised concerns about feeling unsafe returning to the workplace while still immunocompromised, with the risk of picking up infections and viruses. They wanted colleagues to keep up healthy work practices like working from home if they were unwell.

Our factsheet on 'Supporting an employee with breast cancer' offers advice on different ways employers can support staff members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s breast cancer journey is different, and that there’s no right or wrong way to navigate it. Deciding what to do about work after breast cancer is a personal decision and having supportive managers and colleagues can make a real difference.

And remember, our specialist breast nurses are just a phone call (or email) away if you have any questions or concerns. Feel free to get in touch on 0800 226 8773 or email

This October, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging workplaces to sign up to Pink For a Day to raise vital funds for Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. It’s also a great opportunity to start a conversation about breast health in the workplace. Learn more here.