Returning to Work During Cancer
- “Escape to the Country” TV star Jonnie Irwin, 49, has returned to working in television despite his stage 4 lung cancer. Shortly after his diagnosis was made public, his television contract was not renewed, leaving him unemployed for the time being.
- Irwin, 49, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020 and later revealed it had spread, or metastasized, to his brain. Since Irwin’s cancer progressed, he’s focused on spending time with loved ones and creating lasting memories, especially with his wife and three young sons.
- Irwin receives palliative care when he enters hospice to manage his symptoms. This type of care addresses the symptoms and side effects of your cancer or its treatment. These symptoms may include psychological experiences like stress and fear, physical experiences like pain and discomfort, and financial assistance.
- Some cancer patients can continue to work during cancer treatment, while others may need to take some time away. Doctors recommend returning to work if possible, as it helps cancer patients regain a sense of normalcy.
- Cancer patients choosing to work but needing some accommodations on the job may be protected by the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
“Escape to the Country” star Jonnie Irwin, 49, is back to working on television projects despite his cancer battle and a stubborn chest infection. The famous TV presenter once stepped away from working on television following his stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. He thought he wouldn’t be able to work again at the time, but the resilient cancer warrior undergoing palliative care persevered despite life’s challenges.
View this post on InstagramRead More“Recorded the VO for the two short films we made for BBC Morning Live,” Irwin wrote in an Instagram post.
The popular reality TV star admitted he has a chest infection. This latest health hiccup and ongoing lung cancer care made getting to the television studios a bit challenging on a “push bike,” his chosen mode of transportation the day of the recording.
“[I] chose not to take an electric bike, which was a mistake,” Irwin said.
Irwin said he is treating the infection with antibiotics.
Supportive fans continue to send Irwin words of encouragement as he navigates his health journey’s physical and emotional aspects.
“I’ve honestly thought how much better you have looked recently in your photos. You are doing amazingly,” Instagram user Kerry Brown said in a comment.
“Just don’t overdo things Jonnie, but we’ll done for all the steps you took getting to the studio, take care,” Instagram user Marion Charles commented.
“You’re a strong guy Jonnie, love your positivity,” Instagram user Tony Graham said.
Irwin’s ability to work again has added meaning because after he revealed his lung cancer diagnosis, he was told his contract would not be renewed.
Irwin told The Sun, he was paid for the rest of the season despite the non-renewal.
Irwin’s employer, Channel 4 and Freeform Productions in the U.K., said previously in a statement, “Jonnie has been a hugely important part of the ‘A Place in the Sun’ family for over 18 years, and all of us were deeply saddened by his diagnosis,” as reported by multiple news outlets including the Irish Post.
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Jonnie Irwin’s Cancer Battle
Jonnie Irwin’s cancer journey began when symptoms arrived in August 2020. His first symptom occurred during a filming trip when his vision went blurry while driving. After he returned home, he was told he had metastatic lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
One of the most problematic parts of lung cancer is its lack of symptoms until the cancer has already spread, says SurvivorNet medical advisor Dr. Joseph Friedberg. However, once a person suspected of having lung cancer experiences symptoms, their doctor can further investigate the cause with an X-ray to look for anything unusual.
“The question is, well, what stage is it? And so, at this point, the entire workup is an effort to try and determine, do we think that the cancer is spread anywhere? And the things that you would ask for about lung cancer– specifically, any change in your breathing? Do you have a cough? Have you lost any weight? Do you have any pain anywhere? All of these things start to tick off in your head whether they have other potential problems,” Dr. Friedberg said.
Some people with lung cancer may experience symptoms like:
- A cough that doesn’t go away, that gets worse, or that brings up bloody phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hoarse voice
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
WATCH: Lung cancer is tricky because it often lacks symptoms early on.
Irwin has since taken chemotherapy and other cancer drugs to help prolong his life, but Irwin knows his disease does not technically have a cure. Still, he’s focusing on the positive, which includes his supportive wife, Jessica Holmes, and their three toddler-age boys.
“One day, this is going to catch up with me,” Irwin said during an interview with the U.K.-based news outlet “The Sun.”
“But I’m doing everything I can to hold that day off for as long as possible. I owe that to Jess and our boys. Some people in my position have bucket lists, but I just want us to do as much as we can as a family.”
Irwin’s Hospice Care Experience
Irwin occasionally manages his more difficult days and subsequent symptoms in hospice. His decision to leave his family home in favor of hospice care when his pains intensify is an emotional thing to do. However, he believes his children should see him in a positive light and good spirits.
“Hospice care focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life,” the National Institute of Health (NIH) explains.
Hospice care provides comfort care but does not attempt to cure the illness. Families facing potential hospice care should talk to their care team early enough before pursuing hospice care to take advantage of its comforts.
“Starting hospice early may be able to provide months of meaningful care and quality time with loved ones,” the NIH says.
During palliative care, the patient is provided specialized medical care to manage symptoms associated with their medical condition. This form of care may also offer treatment “intended to cure” the illness instead of hospice care, which does not.
A Cancer Patient’s Rights at Work
People facing cancer may wonder how treatment could affect their job. It’s important to know that some accommodations can make working through cancer a little easier.
The Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act protects some people with job problems related to cancer. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may also benefit others. This law allows many people with serious illnesses to take unpaid leave to get medical care or manage their symptoms.
Your human resources department should be able to share with you your options.
In some situations, employers must accommodate a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can show it would be an undue hardship to do so. This could mean making changes to work schedules, equipment, or policies.
On the other hand, employees are not expected to provide accommodations that cause “undue hardships” or “significant difficulty or expense,” according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
Find out more about job accommodations and employment of people with limitations from the Job Accommodation Network. Your human resources department should also be able to share your options with you.
Laurie Ostacher, a behavioral health clinician, recommends cancer patients talk with their employer about accommodations they may need upon returning to work.
WATCH: Working during cancer.
“Patients need to let their employer know [they’re] going to need some flexibility around that. Because there are going to be days when you’re not as energetic or feeling as well as other days,” Ostacher explained.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are battling cancer and are open to working during treatment, consider the following questions for your doctor first.
- What’s the current prognosis of my cancer?
- What are the potential side effects of my recommended treatment?
- Will the side effects affect my ability to travel to work, or will remote work be better for me?
- How long is my treatment expected to last?
- If I cannot return to work as normal, what financial resources are available while I take a leave of absence?
- Can a social worker or patient navigator help me work through my options?