Many Australians run their own business or work as a freelancer, contractor, farmer or entrepreneur. They may be a sole trader or employ other people.
A major concern when you are diagnosed with cancer may be how, and if, you can keep your business running.
Many self-employed people with cancer find ways to have cancer treatment while keeping their business on track. Depending on the nature of your business, self-employment can give you more control over your work schedule and allow you to manage the time needed for treatment or recovery.
The decisions you make will depend on your individual circumstances. It will help to get as much information as you can about the cancer and the possible side effects, so you know how it may affect what you can do. If you rely on your income or if your business has been a major focus of your life, taking time off or not work permanently may be a major concern. See the coping with side effects section, as this may help you make a decision.
If you are uncertain about what to do, discuss your options with family or friends. You could also seek professional financial advice. Your options might include:
To keep your business running, you may need a plan to manage the changes caused by treatment. Talk to your health care team about what to expect from treatment as this might help you decide what you can handle.
These suggestions may help you:
You do not have to disclose the cancer to your clients. Your instinct might be to hide the news of your diagnosis, but if you want to talk about it, you should decide who to tell, what to say and how your business will continue to meet ongoing commitments. Some people choose to tell only established clients.
For self-employed people who do not have paid personal or annual leave, taking time off for cancer treatment may mean being without income for several weeks or months, which can be difficult.
This professional can help you assess your financial position and come up with strategies about how to manage your situation. They can also give you suggestions about dealing with debts and help you if you need money urgently. For information about financial counselling and to find a counsellor, see www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.
You may hold relevant policies, such as income protection, trauma insurance or key person insurance.
Although self-employed people are not required by law to contribute to a superannuation fund, many people have retirement savings. Check if you have any insurance policies linked to the fund, such as disability benefits. Even if you have not contributed regularly to the fund, you may be able to claim on insurance policies.
You may be eligible for benefits or pensions. There are different types of income support payments for people in financial hardship, including benefits for farmers. Call 13 27 17 or visit www.humanservices.gov.au.
"I’m a sole trader with an at-home business. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 at age 43.
"After diagnosis, I had several procedures, including a lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy and mastectomy. My recovery from surgery was around Christmas, so I only did limited billing and I mailed holiday cards to clients. I also renegotiated some deadlines so I could complete projects later than originally planned.
"I had a couple months of chemotherapy after surgery. It was a horrendous experience. I was only able to do limited amounts of work between treatment sessions. When chemotherapy was over, I started working more regularly while my hair was growing back.
"My income was basically halved for the two years after my cancer diagnosis. My treatment went on for 18 months and I worked as much as I could, but I couldn’t function at my usual level. I was lucky because my husband works full-time and I received an insurance payout – we weren’t dependent on my income. It would have been a much bigger financial burden if that hadn’t been the case.
"In fact, I think if you’re going to choose any type of work to suit a cancer diagnosis, selfemployment is it. You can tailor your schedule around treatment. I was used to managing my own time and I continued to do it when I was unwell.
"Ultimately, the diagnosis has caused me to be open to different ways of thinking, and I’ve developed kindness and compassion. I’m more intuitive and I now know how important emotional wellbeing is, no matter what your job.
"I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but my cancer experience changed the way that I work for the better."