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When Jemil Butt learnt he had lymphoma he focused on his treatment and tried to forget about work. But he found solitude did not suit him. He missed the office where he worked as a project manager — and not having tasks to distract him made him feel worse. “I made a decision early on that, for me, the measure of being normal again is my ability to do my job,” he says.


Mr Butt was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. Despite a relapse in 2016 and a stem-cell transplant last year, the 36-year-old, who works for AXA Insurance in the UK, says that having things other than hospital appointments in his diary is part of his recovery.


He enjoys office life, but has had to make adjustments because of his impaired immune system. Before his illness he gave germs little thought. Now he avoids handshakes and desk-sharing, and carries antiseptic wipes to clean door handles. “It sounds a bit OCD, and probably is, but psychologically it’s a win, and to be honest in between treatments I don’t often go sick.”


In the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support estimates there are 890,000 working-age people living with cancer. It found that 85 per cent of workers diagnosed with the disease say that continuing to work is important to them, but the global statistics are discouraging.


According to a 2009 meta-analysis of international research, cancer survivors are 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than other people. That adds up to a lot of wasted experience. As David Shutts, founder of Astriid, a skills-matching platform for people with chronic illnesses, observes: “A skilled engineer with cancer is still a skilled engineer.”


Whether from a desire for privacy or fear of dismissal, some people choose not to tell their employer they have cancer. Instead, they try to muddle through and use holiday time to undergo treatments. Such reactions are understandable — almost a fifth of workers with cancer say they experience discrimination, according to Macmillan. But Barbara Wilson, founder of Working With Cancer, a social enterprise, warns that employees who conceal their disease weaken their rights.

不论是出于隐私考虑还是害怕被解雇,一些人选择不告诉雇主自己得了癌症。相反,他们试图勉强对付过去,并利用假期时间接受治疗。他们这么做可以理解——麦克米兰癌症基金会称,有将近五分之一的癌症患者表示他们受到歧视。但社会企业Working With Cancer的创始人芭芭拉·威尔森(Barbara Wilson)警告说,隐瞒疾病的雇员等于削弱了自身的权利。

The sickness rules and benefits that companies operate can affect how people cope with cancer. For Mr Butt, payments from a critical illness policy eased the worry about how to pay the bills. For many people, he says, “struggling with money is a significant part of the plight”.


Having some guidelines for managers to follow is helpful, says Linda Aiello, who heads international HR at the cloud software company Salesforce, but the biggest need is to treat employees as individuals. There are about 200 cancers, and each will affect people differently. “There’s not a playbook that works in every situation,” she says. Training managers to support team members with cancer is also crucial, although few companies do, according to research.


As Emma Holden, global head of HR at Schroders, the asset manager, observes, “cancer is a scary thing” and bosses may broach the subject clumsily, or not at all. They may also have no notion of the fatigue that many cancer survivors endure months after treatment has ended. “People often assume that recovery is going to be linear and it’s not. You can have periods when you feel fine, then periods when you’re really tired and just need to be away from the office,” she says.


Mr Butt, supported by his boss, began with a few hours working from home while his immunity system recovered, then mornings in the office that lengthened into days. He says: “I’m still on the road to recovery, and there will be many ups and downs. But, since new year, I’ve tried to be in the office daily and largely been successful.” He has hurdles to clear, but normality is in sight.



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