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Finding Work after Cancer

Posted 11/17/2013

Posted in

  Cancer is one event in our lives. It fits into the larger context of family and friends and work and problems. As far as I know, a cancer diagnosis never made other problems go away, and, more often, it expands them and introduces new ones. I sometimes say that, whatever your issues were before cancer, they sit quietly on the shelf, gathering interest, and ready to reappear the moment you try to regain some normalcy. Work is a big part of our lives, and women make a range of adjustments and changes to cope with their work life while going through cancer treatment. Some women continue to work close to full time, others reduce hours, others take a personal or medical leave, and some leave their jobs completely. Sometimes these actions are voluntary, and sometimes there does not seem to be much choice.

   Some women, after cancer, decide to make a professional change. Others just try to resume work or find a new position. Looking for a new job after cancer can be tricky. How much do you want to disclose? It is illegal to discriminate based on a health issue or disability, but it is all too easy for a potential employer to cover up this practice. No one is going to admit not hiring you because you had cancer, but it is easy enough to say there was another applicant who seemed to be a better fit.

  I think there are really two parts of disclosure here. The first comes up if you have been away from work for a while and need to explain the absence. I have a good all purpose explanation for this one. My suggestion is to bring it up yourself rather than wait to see if the interviewer does. Then you say something like: "You will notice that I have not been working for the past year. There were some health problems in my family, and I needed to be available. Everything is fine now." Done. Say no more.

  The second part of disclosure has to do with forward thinking. You will need some time off for medical appointments and there is always the fear that the cancer will recur, and you will need a lot of time. My advice here is not to say anything until you are working. Then, as appointments come up, you will have a much better sense of the culture of your new work place. If you are certain that you will be understood and supported, you surely can tell the whole story. If not, say less, and just indicate that you will be in late on Tuesday morning due to a medical appointment. The basic rule is that it is smarter to say less, not more. You can always say more later, but you can't take something back.

  This is a good article from Cancer Net about looking for a new job:

Finding a Job After Cancer

Key Messages:
• Knowing your rights and the laws that protect you while you look for a job can give you peace of mind.
• You do not have to share personal information about your experience with cancer unless it will affect how you perform the job responsibilities.
• You can ask your employer for “reasonable accommodations,” or adjustments to your work environment, so you can effectively perform your tasks, even without discussing it during the interview process.
• Having dependable health insurance is important for cancer survivors, and you have rights under federal and state laws if a potential employer offers group insurance as a benefit.
For some cancer survivors, looking for a new job or reentering the job market is a challenging experience. However, unless you have physical or mental challenges that limit the type of work you can do, your cancer history should not affect your ability to get a job. If you are qualified for a job, an employer cannot refuse to hire you simply because you have had cancer.


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