More and more people are now living well with cancer, but society is struggling to keep pace with medical progress. In the UK, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes, but with earlier diagnosis, more advanced treatments and better targeted drugs, more people are living well with cancer for longer - with survival rates doubling in the last 40 years.
At Maggie's, we want to empower people to live through and beyond cancer. But whilst there is now better support for those dealing with diagnosis, there is less understanding and support in place for life during and beyond treatment. If people are to get the support they need and deserve to live well with cancer, perceptions of cancer must change, particularly in the workplace.
Work can be incredibly important to people with cancer. Research has told us it can give a sense of normality and purpose, rebuild self-esteem and provide a focus outside of cancer. That's why Maggie's are working with Unum, an insurer and workplace rehabilitation specialist, to explore the issues surrounding cancer in the workplace, give a voice to those who experience them and provide the right support to address them.
Together, we have collaborated on a report that shows that there are over half a million people with cancer in the workforce, contributing £16billion each year to the economy. By 2030, with rising prevalence and survival rates, this will rise to a million people, contributing £29billion.
However the report also reveals that as many as 63,000 people living with cancer today want to work, but are encountering barriers because the right support isn't in place for them or their employers. They describe it as the triple whammy effect: diagnosis, followed by job loss or a negative experience at work, leading to a collapse in confidence and self-esteem.
The reasons behind these barriers are complex. Despite employers' initial efforts to support people returning to work, relationships can quickly, and unintentionally, break down. It's vital that employers provide the right support for an employee returning to work with cancer, which includes ongoing, meaningful communication, better understanding and a carefully managed return to work. But employers also need support - they are looking to the person with cancer to set the tone and need more guidance from them on what they need, as everyone's experiences are different.
The report gives a number of recommendations to help both overcome these barriers. People with cancer need support to acknowledge that their everyday needs in the workplace may change and to ask their employer for the flexibility or guidance they need. At an already emotional time, they often won't know themselves what this is, so it's also important that they look for advice and support from third parties like Maggie's or their occupational health consultant.
Employers should implement a staged return to work programme, maintain open and meaningful communication and use third parties to provide education and training at all levels about what to expect from someone returning to work after cancer. The role of the line manager is especially important. They often have the biggest impact on someone's experience of working with cancer and therefore need the right guidance and support to manage their return to work.
That's why Maggie's and Unum are pooling our expertise and launching a partnership to provide support for people with cancer and their employers. The partnership will begin with free education events at Maggie's centres across the UK throughout 2013 and resources aimed at employers.
It's vital that we act now. By putting the right solutions in place, by 2030 an extra 136,000 people with cancer who choose to work could be helped back into the workplace, helping them to rebuild their lives and contributing £3.5billion to the UK economy.
That's the vision behind our partnership with Unum: we want both employees and employers to receive the support they need and deserve to live well with cancer - and we've shown why they deserve society to respond.
For more information on the events and resources, please visit www.maggiescentres.org/workingaftercancer