School, work and money

Having cancer will affect all areas of your life. Whether you're at school or university, or working, this section has information on letting your school, university or employer know you have cancer, returning after treatment, and the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis.

Young people studying

Letting school, university or work know

It is important that your school, university or work knows about the cancer. They need to know the effect that the cancer and its treatment has had on you. It will also help if they know about any particular needs you may have. You, or an adult who is close to you (like a parent or carer) should get in touch with school, university or work to talk this through.

You may be able to get support from a Young Lives vs Cancer care professional. They offer support with any issues that happen at your work or university. For example, they may talk to your employer about taking leave or reducing your working hours during treatment.

Going back to school, university or work

During treatment, you may need to have some time off from school, university or work. You may be able to return to school, university or work between treatments. If that isn’t possible, once your treatment is over and you are feeling well again, you may want to get back to your normal life.

You may be anxious about mixing with people your own age again. You may worry about how friends who haven’t seen you for a while will react, particularly if you look very different.

It is a good idea to try to meet up with your friends either at home or somewhere where you feel comfortable, before you go back to school, university or work. You could invite them round or go out together. It will give you confidence and make sure there are friendly faces around you when you go back to your normal routine.

Talking to teachers or employers

Teachers and employers may not know very much about your illness. Most of them will be supportive, but attitudes can vary, and sometimes people don’t know enough about your situation. You will need to be clear about your needs. Don’t assume that your teachers or employers understand or know anything about cancer, because this can lead to misunderstandings. For example, some teachers may get annoyed about pupils wearing hats, without realising this may be a way of dealing with hair loss. Explaining this beforehand can usually avoid any problems.

If you are going back to school, the school nurse should be able to support you and help you talk to staff about anything you need.


Bullies pick on people who are different to them. If you are being bullied because you have cancer, or because of your cancer treatment or appearance, it is important not to blame yourself. Talk to someone about it. Tell your school. Perhaps they could arrange to teach a lesson about cancer. This may help your classmates and teachers understand more about your situation.

Your rights at work

If you are going back to work, tell your manager in advance. You can talk to them about any needs you may have and the best way to return.

If you are a member of a trade union, you could also contact your representative. If you work for a large company, there should also be an occupational health nurse who can help you deal with any issues you may have.

Sometimes it is hard to go back to work again. But if you have or have had cancer, you are protected by law from unfair treatment at work. It is illegal for an employer to treat you less favourably (discriminate against you) because of your cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support have more information about your rights at work in their booklet Your rights at work when you’re affected by cancer. This information is written for people of all age groups and you can order a free copy.

Getting career advice

If you would like to get a job, change jobs or do a course, you could speak to a careers adviser. There are different career advisers depending on where you live in the UK:

  • In England, if you are aged 13 or over, you can call the National Careers Service helpline for young people on 0800 100 900. You can also chat with their advisers online.
  • In Scotland, contact Skills Development Scotland by calling 0800 917 8000 or visit them online.
  • In Wales, contact Careers Wales by calling 0800 028 4844, or chat with their advisers online.
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the Careers Service NI on 0300 200 7820 or visit them online.
  • Whichever adviser you choose, explain about the cancer and tell them what kind of work or study you might be interested in. If they help you find a job placement, they will also advise you on the best way to tell employers about your medical needs. They can also give you information on courses, including less academic but more work-related qualifications like NVQs, Key Skills, AVCEs and BTECs. If you are aged 19 or over, you will be able to get help and guidance from your local Jobcentre.

Financial help

Living with cancer can be expensive. There may be extra costs from things like travelling to hospital, and you may have to stop working for a while. Some people may have financial support from their family, but others may not.

If you are unable to find work or are struggling with money, you may be able to get benefits. Benefits are payments from the government to people in need. You can find out more about benefits by calling Macmillan Cancer Support’s specialists on 0808 808 00 00. You can speak to one of their welfare rights advisers, who can tell you about benefits and help you apply for them.

They can also provide details about organisations that can give financial help to young people with cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support also have information about benefits on their website.

You can also call Citizens Advice or visit (if you live in England, Scotland or Wales) or (if you live in Northern Ireland). Your social worker can help you make an appointment with a benefits adviser or Citizens Advice worker.

Student loans and tuition fees

If you were at university during your treatment, you may have had advice from the university’s disability or financial advice team. They will be able to keep helping you, even if you haven’t spoken to them for a while. If you needed time off because of treatment, they should be able to help you get funding for when you to come back.

As a student who has had cancer, you may be entitled to benefits. You can call the Disabled Students Helpline on 0800 328 5050to talk to someone about the different options available.

Mortgages and insurance

Living with cancer might make it difficult to pay for housing costs. This may be because you have had to stop working for a while, or because you need to spend more money on heating and other bills.

There are things you can do and help that is available if you are struggling. For example:

  • If you have a mortgage and are struggling to make the repayments after treatment, your mortgage lender may be able to give you a mortgage holiday or stop your repayments for a few months.
  • If you are thinking about buying your first home, you might find it useful to get a broker to help. It can sometimes be harder to get a mortgage or insurance if you have had cancer.
  • If you are finding it difficult to pay rent, you may be able to get Housing Benefit from your local council or housing executive to help with payments.
  • You may also be able to get extra payments from the council to help with your council tax.

For more information about help with housing costs, call the Macmillan financial guides on 0808 808 00 00.

Questions you could ask about school, work and money

Here are some questions you might want to ask your clinical nurse specialist, oncology outreach nurse, social worker or a benefits adviser.

  • How can my school, or university support me?
  • How much should I tell my school or university about the cancer?
  • What will happen if I need to take time off from studying?
  • What will happen if I need time off work?
  • What are my rights at work?
  • Can I get help with looking for a job?
  • Can I get benefits or financial help if I am having money problems?

Based on content originally produced by Macmillan Cancer Support.