Breast cancer's side effect: long-term unemployment


by KING 5 HealthLink

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 5:06 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 28 at 6:31 PM

Women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer can expect some unpleasant side effects, from hair loss to extreme fatigue. Now researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered another repercussion: a higher likelihood of long-term unemployment.

Kris Snow surveys the remnants of what used to be a successful home remodeling business. She had to stop working after chemotherapy to treat breast cancer in 2011 left her with extreme fatigue and nerve damage.

Three years later -- she still can't lift and operate her tools.

"I basically have lost my business because you can't tell someone, 'Oh I'll remodel your bathroom for you, but I'm not sure when I can get it done,'" said Snow.

A new study of early-stage breast cancer patients finds one third of those who get treated with chemotherapy are unemployed four years later. Reasons vary from too much absenteeism at work to mental fogginess from "chemo brain."

“A lot of patients tell me that they may have jobs where they were multitasking quite a bit and now they're trying to find new ways to organize themselves," said Dr. Jennifer Litton, MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Doctors are not suggesting patients avoid chemo. The priority is a cure, but long-term effects need to be addressed

"We may have to spend extra time, either the physicians the nurses or the social workers, spending time informing their employers of what to expect," said Dr. Litton.
Snow is cancer-free and fully expected to go back to work.  Instead, she's on disability.

"I can see progress, but it's really hard to be patient and not be back," she said.

The tools to save her life may have ended her career.
Doctors say women who are able to return to work while undergoing chemotherapy actually respond better to treatment.