Employment & finances

You may find that your ability to work is only affected in the short-term, for example when attending hospital for treatment, in the days immediately after a treatment or at times when side-effects are particularly difficult to manage.

On the other hand, you may feel that you are physically less able to cope with the demands of your job anymore. Psychologically, some women also experience a shift in their priorities and perspective, feeling that their secondary breast cancer diagnosis has signalled a need for them to spend more time with loved ones and doing what they want to do. If you are financially able to do so, this may mean giving up work altogether or considering part-time working. Alternatively, you may decide a change of job would better suit your needs.

The stress and anxiety of making decisions about work and managing your finances can be a lot to cope with on top of the worries and struggles brought by a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. Whether family, friends, health professionals or via an online support group or discussion board, sharing your worries or hearing about the experiences of others can help you to feel less alone and may allow you to see things from a different perspective or to consider other options and solutions.

Here, we provide a range of guidance and direct you towards lots of sources of information and advice to support you in making decisions about your work and finances.

Support to continue working

If you choose to continue to work whilst living with secondary breast cancer, your employer is required by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you to do so. For example, this might mean supporting you to work flexible hours, work from home or providing you with equipment to help you to do your job.  

Fit to Work are a government-funded organisation who offer free advice to employees on how to manage health conditions at work.

If your employer is unable to cover the cost of any adjustments you need at work, you may be able to get support in the form of a grant from Access to Work. This can help to cover the costs of, for example, equipment or support getting to and from work. Access to Work can also support you to receive mental health support.  You can visit their website to check whether you are eligible and find out how to apply.

You may need to take some time away from work, without deciding to give it up completely. You are able to take sick leave and still receive sick pay. You will need to provide a sick note (now referred to as a ‘fit note’) from your doctor if you are off for more than 7 days. The government website provide a range of further information on taking sick leave.

Support for the self-employed

Decisions about work and finances can be all the more difficult and stressful if you are self-employed or run your own business.

Don’t struggle alone. There are a range of sources of financial support which are available for those self-employed as well as employed. Macmillan also have a wide range of information specifically for self-employed people living with cancer.

There are also some government schemes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, set up to provide guidance to small businesses and the self-employed.

If you are self-employed and no longer feel able to work, it is a good idea to speak to a financial adviser (Macmillan financial advisers are available Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm on 0808 808 00 00) to explore your options. If business is not currently going well, you may decide to take action before you are forced to close. A financial professional, such as an accountant, will be able to help you plan everything that will need to be done to protect your assets and guide you through the processes you will need to follow. Macmillan have a wide range of information and advice on managing your finances and accessing expert advice if you are self-employed.   

Support when considering whether to continue working

Speak to your employers. If you are finding that your needs and abilities are changing as a result of your cancer or ongoing treatment, your employer may be able to support you to continue in your role with some further adjustments e.g. adapting your role or your working hours.

Seek advice. For some women, this can be a very difficult decision to make both practically and psychologically. A job is not only a source of income but also a huge part of a person’s identity and you may find the thought of giving up work earlier than anticipated very difficult to come to terms with. Continuing to work can also help you to maintain a sense of normality which may feel very important. Financially, your ability to continue working may also be a big concern for your family’s income, especially if you are the main earner in your household. There are lots of people and services you can talk to, to help you to consider your decision.

Share how you are feeling. Should you decide to stop working, you may find that you experience a range of emotions and feelings, from anger and frustration, to disappointment, sadness and a sense of loss (e.g. loss of purpose, loss of identity, loss of confidence & self-esteem). If you are struggling to manage these feelings, it may help you to talk these through, whether with family & loved ones, or someone you feel less closely connected to such as a counsellor or health professional. Please see our section on Psychological well-being for further guidance.

Age can have a significant bearing on these decisions and the extent to which you feel financial strain and concerns about yours and your loved ones’ futures. Please also see our section on Younger women with secondary breast cancer for more information and support for those diagnosed at a younger age.  

Support when you no longer feel able to work

If you have reached the stage where you no longer feel able to work as a result of your secondary breast cancer, you may be exploring the options available to you to support you and your family without your regular income.

There are a number of different potential ways to access your pension early.

Ill health retirement. Depending on the rules of your pension provider, you may be able to take ill health retirement if your cancer is preventing you from working, whether due to physical or mental ill health. This would allow you to access your pension early. How much you can access and when will depend on the rules of your scheme, which can vary from provider to provider. It is a good idea to seek some professional financial advice before making the decision as to whether to apply for ill health retirement.

Serious ill health retirement. If your doctor has let you know that your prognosis is particularly poor (i.e. the likely course that your disease is likely to take and the amount of time you have), you may be able to access serious ill health retirement. In this case, your pension pot may be paid out to you as a lump sum which, for under 75s, is usually tax-free.

If you are aged under 75, accessing a tax-free lump sum would require evidence of your life expectancy from a registered heath professional. This can be upsetting and frightening to have this confirmed or to see it in writing.

It is a good idea to seek some professional financial advice if you are considering this option, since opting to take your pension as a lump sum can affect other benefits you might otherwise be eligible for.

Defined contribution & defined benefit schemes. Both of these schemes have different options for accessing money, either when you reach retirement age or earlier as a result of ill health. These will vary depending on your pension provider or employer. Some people on defined benefit schemes choose to transfer to a defined contribution scheme, since this offers more flexibility for accessing your pension.

It is important to seek expert advice on the range of different options which may be available to you. Macmillan have a range of detailed further information on the variety of different ways of accessing your pension and points to bear in mind when considering each of these options.

There may also be a range of other sources of financial support which you are eligible to receive. Before deciding to give up work or accessing your pension early, it is a good idea to seek professional financial advice regarding the best option for you and the support that would be available to you.

The Pensions Advisory Service provide a range of information on different types of pensions and retirement options. You can also contact one of their specialists for free financial advice via their website.

Please see our section on Pensions advice below.

Working With Cancer are an organisation who provide a wide range of information, support and resources for employers, employees, the self-employed, job seekers, carers and health professionals.

Financial advice

Regardless of your current working situation, you are likely to have a range of questions relating to your finances now and in the future. With so much uncertainty brought by a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer, it can be difficult to know what is best to do in terms of savings, pension contributions and planning ahead for you and your family.

General advice

Citizen’s Advice are able to offer independent advice on a range of financial matters, online, in person or over the telephone.

Macmillan have a range of experts you can speak to by calling their Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, from welfare rights advisors and financial guides to the work support team and energy advisors.

You may also choose to speak to an independent financial adviser. These professionals are experts and will be able to offer independent advice relating to your individual situation and finances. They will ask you a range of questions relating to your pension and finances and will research and provide recommendations on the best options for you. They charge a fee for this service, though this should be discussed and agreed up front.

Both the Money Advice Service and Macmillan offer a range of further information on how to choose a financial adviser and what sorts of questions to ask.

Pensions advice

As well as information on ways in which you can access your pension early, you may also be looking for information and advice relating to your pension scheme and how best to manage your contributions and your pension pot (or pots) now and in the future.  

Both the Pensions Advisory Service and Macmillan have a range of detailed information on their websites. You can also contact Macmilan’s financial guides and the Pension Advisory Service’s experts to ask them any questions you might have.

Citizen’s advice also provide information relating to pensions on their website and are able to answer your questions in person, at your local Citizen’s Advice centre, or via their Advice line. Your pension provider will also be able to advise you on your particular scheme. You may have more questions for them once you have received some advice from elsewhere.

The government’s Pension Wise service offer free, impartial pensions guidance for those over 50 with a personal or workplace pension.

Debt management advice

With the uncertainty brought by a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer, you may be worried about whether you will be able to manage and pay off any debts you have and what might happen to these if you were no longer here.

Citizen’s Advice and Macmillan provide a range of information on debts & debt management on their websites. You can also speak to their experts via their advice lines:

Citizens Advice Line: 03444 111444

Macmillan Support Line: 0808 808 0000

Sources of financial support

You do not have to be unemployed to access financial support. Whether you choose to stop working (temporarily or indefinitely) or to continue for as long as you can, there are lots of sources of financial support for people living with a long-term condition which you may be able to access.

It is worthwhile exploring these options as you could be eligible for money that you are not aware of. They are not always means tested so don’t assume you won’t be eligible and don’t feel guilty for accessing them. Secondary breast cancer can be a huge burden to live with and these sources of support are designed to help.

Benefits & entitlements: rules for ‘fast tracking’

There are special rules which apply to people living with a terminal condition. These allow claims for certain benefits to be fast tracked and paid at the highest rate. If you would like more information on this, please visit on section on Looking ahead.

Statutory sick pay (SSP)

If you have been off work for 4 or more consecutive days, you are entitled to receive sick pay from your employer. This is a minimum of £94.25 per week, for up to a maximum of 28 weeks. It may be more if your employer has a sick pay scheme. Your employer or HR department will be able to advise you further.

The government website GOV.UK provides further information on SSP and how to apply.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) replaces what was previously known as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). It is intended to support people to cover the extra costs associated with living with a long-term condition such as secondary breast cancer.  To be eligible to receive this support you must meet the following criteria;

  • Have not yet reached state pension age (you can check your state pension age using the GOV.uk tool).
  • Have a long-term condition which has caused you to have difficulties getting around and/or with daily living for the last 3 months or more.
  • Have difficulties getting around and/or with daily living which are expected to last for the next 9 months (unless you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition with 6 months or less to live).

PIP is a tax-free, 4-weekly payment which you are entitled to regardless of whether or not you are working. The amount you receive will depend on the extent to which your condition impacts upon you and your life, as assessed by a health professional.

Claims for PIP are made via telephone call to the Department of Work and Pensions.

A range of further information relating to eligibility, how to make a claim for PIP, what evidence you will need and preparing for a PIP assessment is available on the government website GOV.UK and from Citizen’s advice.

Employment & Support Allowance (ESA)

This is a benefit that you are able to access if you have a health condition which affects your ability to work and you are under the State Pension age (you can check your state pension age on the government’s website GOV.UK).

You are eligible to apply for this support regardless of whether you are currently working or not. However, you are unable to access ESA if you are currently receiving statutory sick pay.

Find out more about ESA and how to apply.

Universal credit

Universal credit is a new benefit which has been introduced to replace a range of other benefits. It is intended to support people who are out of work or on a low income to manage the costs of living. How much Universal Credit you receive depends on how much money you earn. However, for those living with a health condition affecting their ability to work, they are able to earn a certain amount before Universal Credit is reduced.

Find out more about Universal Credit and how to apply.


Life insurance & critical illness cover

If you have life insurance and have been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, it is worthwhile checking with your insurance provider whether your policy covers you for critical illness. If so, you could receive a lump sum of money which you are free to spend however you wish. Different policies exclude different sorts of illness so it is important to check this carefully.

If you would like further information on the different sorts of life insurance and how money is paid out, please see our section on Looking ahead.

Travel insurance

Travelling abroad whilst living with secondary breast cancer is by no means impossible, however there are a few things to consider before booking your trip.

Travel insurance will be significantly more expensive, and may be more of a struggle to get, however it is very important that you are covered for secondary breast cancer. You may need treatment whilst you are abroad, or you may need to cancel or shorten your trip due to cancer related ill health and would not otherwise be covered for these expenses.

In speaking to other women, you might find that a company who covered them would not cover you and vice versa. The decision is very much based on each individual’s situation so don’t give up hope and keep shopping around for the best quote. When looking around, have all of your clinical information with you. You may need details relating to your diagnosis and past treatments.

You may find it helpful to enlist the help of an insurance broker. These professionals have expertise in scouring the market for the best policies and deals. This can also save you having to repeat sensitive information multiple times over when shopping around for the best deal yourself.

Macmillan have a range of further information on travel insurance which you may find useful.

Breast Cancer Now also provide some advice specifically for women with secondary breast cancer.

Page last updated: April 2020