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Cancer and the Job Interview: To Tell Or Not To Tell, A Fair Question?

Cancer survivor discusses interviewing for jobs and returning to employment after surviving breast cancer and melanoma.
PUBLISHED April 04, 2017
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at,or
Tough stuff—returning to a job or interviewing for a new job as a cancer survivor. I don’t know the answers here. If you have some thoughts, please share them. I was scared to be finished with active cancer treatment and yet I also knew there were job interviews in my future.

How did I handle it? Honestly, it varied. I knew I wouldn’t lie if asked, but how much to volunteer? Which means how do you handle questions like “What have you been up to the last few years” or “Tell us about yourself.” How much were my cancers really about me? In my work experience, my cancers became me more me than for some people, because I continue to research and write about cancer since becoming a cancer survivor.

Realizing I am a statistical sample size of one and everyone’s job interviews go differently, I can only share my own experiences. At a couple interviews, I just avoided discussing my cancers (even though I had written a book and continue to write professionally on this topic to this day).  In both cases, I didn’t get the jobs and I didn’t feel honest, even though I had plenty of other things to discuss—other freelance writing and speaking, raising a family, spending time and helping aging parents…

After that, I decided to be completely honest and give interviewers the whole picture of the last few years. There were many positive responses, as well as job offers, and I felt better with myself for being more forthcoming. That said, I have also been free of cancer for several years and I have a very good chance that neither cancer will return.  

Still, after being self-employed for many years, I wondered how I would do having an actual employer and learning a new job. I like to work hard. I like to learn and I am fine working in a changing environment that requires ongoing learning. Not everyone is. I worry about “chemobrain,” but it hasn’t seemed to be too much of an issue. Whew!

Am I just “one of the lucky ones”? How do you feel you would function learning a new job? Did you tell people at work about your fears or feelings going back to work or starting a new job after having cancer? And what about health insurance?
I kept the good health insurance I already had through my husband, so that wasn’t an issue. What has happened to cancer survivors who apply for health insurance through a new employer? Do you pay a higher rate? Do you just sign up? Let’s talk about and share our job and health insurance experiences.

These articles were helpful to me: 3 Tips for Finding a New Job After Cancer and Returning to Work After Cancer. Please share any links or information that you found helpful too. I was surprised there isn’t more out there on this topic.
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