Cancer and Career Changes


Has anyone thought about a career change since having cancer?

Has anyone thought about a career change since having cancer? Maybe some wonder if their job is still compatible, depending on their diagnosis and any permanent or frequent side effects. But I suspect some wonder if the way they spend their day is really making them happy after having had cancer. Has anyone wondered if what you do daily is relevant to your interests and passion?

I am fortunate that I will soon have attained 20 years of employment with my current employer, and in less than two years, I can take an optional retirement, stay for a few more years or transfer to another position and employer. This is both exciting and scary. Will cancer play a role in my future career? Will future employers have a concern about my history of having had breast cancer? What direction do I point myself in if I’m thinking about a change?

I am a certified rehabilitation counselor and have several interests. I love being busy and having varied skills, but maybe it is time to gain a little more focus to refine career interests and find a direction for any future goals I may want to pursue. Being trained as a rehabilitation counselor, I have worked with individuals who experienced illness or injury to consider career changes. For some people, finding a new job is required, as their former position may no longer be compa tible with their abilities and disabilities. I don't presently need to take any disabilities into account, but I am wondering about my interests and opportunities.

Take an interest inventory. Just for fun, I took a free quick interest inventory online. My top interests were narrowed down to three areas: teaching/education, sales/marketing/service and hospitality/tourism. The problem is that this inventory did not narrow down specific jobs I might want to consider, or what others might want to look in to if they need more specific guidance. This led me to take the Holland Interest Inventory online, which I have not done in several years. This gave me a more specific breakdown of careers I already have skills in or which I might need more training in to change careers.

If you could use specific guidance, taking an interest inventory might be something you want to consider. To take one, you can inquire with your human resources department or an employee assistance program (EAP). You might also inquire with a local college or university about meeting with a career counselor. If you don't mind spending money on a test, you might even take an interest inventory.

The next steps after narrowing down your interests is to ensure a new career will be around in the next few years, it is compatible with your abilities and any disabilities, and then consider the salary and cost, or length of any training involved. Ask yourself if this salary meets your needs and lifestyle.

All of this may lead you to want to meet with a career counselor for guidance if you are serious about a career change or if you're needing to explore positions compatible with any disabilities or limitations you have developed since having cancer. A rehabilitation counselor has more specific training beyond that of a career counselor to assess accommodations that can be made with a by employers. If you have benefits from serving in the military, you can likely seek services with your local Department of Veterans Affairs in addition to working with an EAP, a state disability agency or a local career counselor.

I suppose if I think about it, changing careers or employers shouldn't be nearly as fearful as fighting cancer. I had just begun yoga teacher training when cancer attempted to knock me on my butt. I fought back against cancer by continuing with yoga teacher training and adding skills to help me professionally and personally.

Unless you are in active treatment or have side effects that will need accommodations, you likely will not need to explain your diagnosis to your employer. An employer might also ask about gaps in employment. You can practice your response if you anticipate being asked these kinds of questions. I share being a cancer survivor it might be a way to demonstrate how I overcome obstacles. I was once told by an employer that sometimes, they don't want the perfect "A-student coming out of school.” They want to hire individuals who they know can overcome obstacles, who persevere and who have learned from life to be resilient.

For those of us who have overcome life and life's obstacles, don't give up! If we can confront fear and persevere, we can most certainly take on a new career. Don’t think about cancer as a weakness, because it might have taught us to be a little more resilient. Focus on your gifts and skills and what you have learned about yourself by having cancer. You might just see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Recent Videos
Dr. Kelly Stratton
Image of a woman wearing a red tank top.
Image of a woman with a brown hair tied into a bun.
Related Content