March 13, 2017

Returning to Work After Colon Cancer

Crawford Clay, Certified Patient & Family Support Navigator, Colon Cancer Alliance

Cancer is expensive. There is no doubt about it. Most of us can’t wait to return to work, pay down our debts and get life back to normal. Sometimes though, we hit roadblocks.

I hit a roadblock shortly after finishing chemo. Driving home one day I realized I was lost. Lost doing something I had done countless times before. That was scary. Thankfully, I could call my wife who got me home.

Chemo brain 1, Crawford 0.

At that point, I realized I might not be able to return to work full time. How can you go to work if you can’t remember how to get home? Happily, my chemo brain cleared up enough that it’s not a problem anymore. It took almost a year, though.

Other roadblocks included frequent trips to the bathroom. Not every job allows freedom to go to the bathroom. Mine did. A temporary ileostomy restricted my lifting. Later on I developed a hernia. I didn’t have neuropathy, but many people do. It took me about a year to regain my stamina and overcome these obstacles.

What do you do if you can’t work? You go on Social Security disability (SSDI) right? Thinking about disability, I had two big questions. One, could I afford it? Two, what would I do for insurance? Let’s face it, SSDI benefits help, but it’s not a lot of money. Health insurance is an issue for anyone not already on Medicare.

I decided to continue working for a few reasons. Health insurance was the biggest reason. I also needed to contribute to the welfare of my family. Forty-four seemed too young to retire. Like many survivors, I felt the need to give back to the world that helped me survive.

If you are wondering if you should return to work, ask yourself:

  • Can you physically do your job?
  • Can you stay out of the bathroom long enough to do your job?
  • What will you do for insurance and healthcare?
  • What will you do to give your life purpose and meaning?

For some people the issue is clear-cut. For others it’s more of a gray area. There’s no easy answer. If you want to talk it over with someone, you can call the Colon Cancer Alliance toll-free helpline at (877) 422 2030.

Allsup can also help you.

Consider hiring a professional if you decide to file for disability. Filing for disability is like buttoning your shirt if you can’t feel your fingers. It’s not impossible, but you’ll appreciate the help.

People who want to give back should consider becoming a volunteer or a Buddy for the Colon Cancer Alliance.

Editor’s note: If you are already receiving SSDI benefits, and are interested in returning to work, you can learn about resources available to you at

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