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Survivors, Patients Face Challenges in the Workplace

While nearly 70 percent of patients and survivors agreed that working helps in their treatment and recovery, they acknowledged that cancer is accompanied by particular challenges in the workplace.
BY Kelly Johnson
PUBLISHED October 19, 2015
The majority of survivors and patients with cancer want to work but are faced with common challenges such as fatigue, managing side effects, and taking longer to complete work tasks, a recent survey has found.

The online Harris poll, administered on behalf of Cancer and Careers, surveyed 913 employed and unemployed patients and survivors of cancer between May 6 and June 3, 2015.

Survey results revealed that 73 percent of patients and survivors of cancer want to work, but 59 percent of those who worked through treatment reported feeling that they had no choice. In addition, 68 percent of employed survivors reported financial concerns as their primary reason for continuing to work during treatment.

While nearly 70 percent of patients and survivors agreed that working helps in their treatment and recovery, they acknowledged that cancer is accompanied by particular challenges in the workplace.

Among those currently working and in treatment:

• 42 percent reported fatigue at work
• 26 percent had challenges managing discomfort from physical posttreatment side effects
• 23 percent take longer to complete work tasks
• 29v feel that they haven’t advanced as quickly.

And, nearly 40 percent said cancer negatively impacted their long-term career goals.

New York resident Tara Cernacek was just finishing treatment for stage 2b triple-positive breast cancer when she was let go from her job as an executive assistant for a nonprofit organization.

“Working was very valuable to me,” she says. “Once I was laid off in April 2013 and wasn’t working, I found myself being consumed by depression, financial worries, all kinds of worries.”

Cernacek turned to Cancer and Careers, where she was connected with a career coach who helped revamp her résumé and rehearsed the interview processes.

The Cancer and Careers website ( also served as a hub of information for Cernacek about getting back to work after a cancer diagnosis.

“While work gives many cancer patients and survivors a sense of purpose and normalcy, without the proper resources, balancing it with a cancer diagnosis can often be overwhelming,” Rebecca Nellis, MPP, chief mission officer of Cancer and Careers, said in a statement. “Survivors need to be prepared with the right knowledge and tools to help them navigate workplace challenges and get the support they need.”

Since working with Cancer and Careers, Cernacek has landed several temp jobs and just recently secured an office manager position at an advocacy organization. 

“I love working because it does distract me from thinking about the disease. It gives me a sense of purpose, and it’s a distraction in the sense of fulfillment,” she says.

A majority of the employed respondents (73 percent) also reported that working during treatment helped them cope.

Along with challenges in the workplace, the survey found that patients and survivors face challenges during the job hunt.

Fear that disclosing their cancer diagnosis would lessen their chances of getting hired affected 61 percent of respondents, an increase from 50 percent in 2014. Only 9 percent reported having been asked about their cancer diagnosis during an interview, but 31 percent who have been on an interview since their diagnosis said they were asked an inappropriate or illegal question regarding their health.

Cernacek says that she avoided interviews while her hair was growing back, but one of the key pieces of advice she took from the career coach was to not focus on the cancer during interviews.

“Before my diagnosis, I thought that working would be the last thing you think about when you have cancer. But it’s so not true,” she says. “Working definitely saved me.”
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