When you're dealing with thyroid cancer and treatment, having to work may seem like a challenge or may improve your outlook. Whether you choose to work or you have to, here's help to keep fatigue from getting in your way.
You may want to keep working during your treatment and recovery from thyroid cancer, especially if finances and maintaining a sense of normalcy are concerns.
Going to work every day can give you a sense of purpose, enable you to pay your bills, and take your mind off your thyroid cancer symptoms and diagnosis. But treatment side effects can rob you of your stamina.
Even when you are able to focus on work, you may find yourself overcome by the extreme fatigue that's often a part of thyroid cancer treatment. Following a healthy lifestyle can increase your energy level and make it easier to get through your workday when your medical team gives you the go-ahead to return to work.
Working Through Thyroid Cancer Treatment
To help you balance work demands with your cancer treatment and recovery, start by finding out how much work you may actually need to miss.
"Individuals with thyroid cancer frequently need time off from work during the process of diagnosis and treatment," says Matthew Old, MD, assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. "The length of time varies per individual and depends upon age, health, and extent of surgery. For a thyroidectomy, plan on a minimum of two weeks off. Some individuals wish to go back after one week, but most need two to three weeks off and sometimes longer."
It's also important to understand how other aspects of your treatment may make you feel. For instance, says Dr. Old, some patients need to stop taking their thyroid medication after surgery to prepare for the radioactive treatment that will kill any remaining cancer cells. Not taking this medication will significantly decrease energy levels. "This will make working tough for most individuals," Old cautions.
The follow-up treatment to surgery and the restrictions that surround it are generally more complicated than the surgery itself, says Mira Milas, MD, director of the Thyroid Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Your radiologist and endocrinologist will give you very specific, individually tailored instructions about what you can and can't do in terms of public activities and how many days you’ll have to be away from people, explains Dr. Milas. "During the time there's actual radioactive iodine therapy within the body, a person should not work." It’s not safe to be anywhere near other people.
Fighting Off Fatigue
To better prepare yourself for when you are able to be at work or work from home, focus on taking the best possible care of yourself — don’t shortchange yourself on any of the cancer recovery guidelines your medical team gives you.
Having plenty of energy during the day requires getting the right amount of restful sleep the night before — seven to eight hours — and eating right and exercising.
"A well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise are key components to maintaining and improving energy levels," says Old. "Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption prior to bedtime."
When you’re in the office, you’ll need to pace yourself and remember to take the time to eat lunch and any snacks and to drink water to stay hydrated. "At work, take frequent breaks and go for a walk or stretch," says Old. "If you are extremely tired, take a short nap."
If you just can't manage your fatigue or find enough energy to get through your day, Old suggests asking your doctor about possible adjustments to your medication or other lifestyle changes that can help you feel more energized.
Talking to your doctor about what you can expect at each stage of your treatment and how much work you're likely to miss will give you a good idea of how to schedule your work responsibilities accordingly.
Last Updated: 09/28/2010