Oesophageal cancer : Living with

Having oesophageal cancer can have a big impact on your life, but support is available to help you cope.

Eating and swallowing

You may have swallowing difficulties during and after treatment for oesophageal cancer.

There are treatments that can help, including surgery to place a hollow tube (stent) in your oesophagus, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, although they may not work immediately.

You might need to have a temporary feeding tube or fluids given through a drip, before moving on to fluids by mouth and soft foods. You may eventually be able to eat solid food.

A speech and language therapist can assess your ability to swallow and suggest ways to overcome any problems.

A dietitian can also help with any changes you need to make to your diet.

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Support and advice

Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be very difficult. 

You may find it helpful to:

  • talk to your friends and family – be open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put you and them at ease
  • communicate with others in the same situation – you may want to contact a local support group or join a forum, such as the HealthUnlocked forum for oesophageal patients or Cancer Chat
  • find out more about oesophageal cancer – check websites such as Cancer Research UK or Macmillan, or speak to your care team or a GP if you have any questions
  • take time out for yourself – do not feel shy about telling friends and family if you want some time to yourself

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Having oesophageal cancer does not necessarily mean you'll have to give up work, although you may need quite a lot of time off.

During treatment, you may not be able to carry on as you did before.

If you have cancer, you're covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.

This means that your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of your illness.

They have a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to help you cope, such as:

  • allowing you time off for treatment and medical appointments
  • allowing flexibility with working hours, the tasks you have to perform, or your working environment

Give your employer as much information as possible about how much time you'll need off and when.

Speak to a member of your HR department, if you have one.

If you're having difficulties with your employer, you may be able to get help from your union, association representative or local Citizens Advice.

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Money and benefits

If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially. 

You may be entitled to financial support:

  • if you have a job but can no longer work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
  • if you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
  • if you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or you have a low household income

It's a good idea to find out what help is available as soon as possible.

You could ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medicines, including treatments for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for 5 years. Apply for a certificate by speaking to a GP or your cancer specialist.

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Palliative care

If you're told there's nothing more that can be done to treat your oesophageal cancer or you decide to decline treatment, a GP or your care team will provide you with support and pain relief.

This is called palliative care. You can choose to receive palliative care:

  • at home
  • in a care home
  • in hospital 
  • in a hospice

Your doctor or care team should work with you to establish a clear plan based on your wishes.

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Caring for someone with cancer

Being a carer is not easy. It can be emotionally and physically draining, and make it easy for you to forget your own health and mental wellbeing.

But putting yourself last does not work in the long-term.

If you're caring for someone else, it's important to look after yourself and get as much help as possible.

It's in your best interests, as well as those of the person you're caring for.

Read more about getting caring support and carers' breaks and respite care.

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