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Keywords:

  • breast cancer;
  • sick leave;
  • focus groups;
  • oncology;
  • patient perspective;
  • return to work

Abstract

Background

To better understand processes affecting return to work (RTW) after breast cancer, more knowledge from the perspective of sickness absentees is warranted. Still, research based on women's own reasoning and actions in RTW is very scarce. This study aims to elucidate how women with breast cancer reflect and act on work-related issues.

Material and methods

Thematic analyses of data from four focus group interviews with 23 women who had had breast cancer surgery in the previous 3–13 months were carried out.

Results

The five following themes of reflections regarding RTW were identified: ‘health and functioning’, ‘self-esteem/integrity’, ‘value of work’, ‘relationships at work’, and ‘social circumstances’. These reflections were associated with the three identified themes of actions taken by the women: ‘to work or to be sickness absent’, ‘to adjust work according to own needs or not’, and ‘to disclose or to hide one's cancer’. There was a distinct difference between women who experienced work as a source of well-being and those who needed a respite from work.

Conclusion

This study adds knowledge to the process of RTW after breast cancer and focuses on factors that lead the women to an active role in this process. We point to the interplay between women's own preferences, perceived competence, outer opportunities, and the actions each woman take with regard to RTW, which need to be recognized by all stakeholders involved. Furthermore, it continues to be essential to address the specific issue of disclosure in the workplace because this may be distressing for women. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.