Continuing Your Career During and After the Cancer Journey

April 22, 2020
Martha Carlson
Martha Carlson

Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.

Cancer alters the trajectory of your career, but it doesn't have to end it. Here are some ways to find resources that help patients and survivors alike find the next step of their careers.

Before the world changed so suddenly just weeks ago, I had been thinking about trying to return to a full-time position. I've been self-employed for years now but miss much of what comes with working in a "regular" job. Over time, I've become more comfortable with both the idea that I can manage the long-term side effects of cancer and the hope that I may have many more years of a pretty healthy life.

I was receiving regular updates for jobs for which I was well-suited and had registered for a 1-day conference in Chicago, called the Midwest Conference on Work and Cancer, organized by Cancer and Careers. The schedule looked promising, with information on disclosure and privacy, working through treatment and returning to work. I was excited about attending the meeting.

Then COVID-19 started to make deadly inroads in the United States, and the in-person meeting was quickly called off. Also called off: Looking for a job in the midst of a pandemic. But then I got the e-mail for joining the conference online and immediately added it to my calendar. Of course, attending online, versus in-person, is a very different experience but given what is happening in the world right now it is important to accept that "different" doesn't have to mean "worse".

The wealth of material and information shared during the virtual conference helped me realize that there is so much support out there for anyone who plans to continue to work through cancer treatment or hopes to return to work during or after treatment. Wherever you are on that continuum, Cancer and Careers and Triage Cancer, their partner in the conference content, have materials and resources on their websites that can help you navigate living with cancer while wanting (or needing) to work.

Of exceptional value to me, as someone who hasn't been working in a typical job and is exploring the idea of expanding my freelance work and/or working for a company, are the "Job Search Toolkit" and a smaller "Resources" brochure, which are both free publications on the Cancer and Careers website.

There are publications available on the same site for people with questions and concerns about talking to their managers, legal rights, taking time off from work and every imaginable problem faced by those who are currently employed and those looking for employment. There's a single page sheet about counteracting chemo-brain at work that features practical suggestions, whether you work or not, as well as material on maintaining online privacy and an interesting workbook ("Living and Working With Cancer Workbook") that addresses a wide range of issues. The list of resources made me grateful, once again, that there are people in this world who want those of us living with cancer to be able to lead the best lives we can.

Whether you're like me, or if you've been working outside the home all along, these two organizations provide crucial reassurance that you can find a way to manage both a serious illness and a professional life, if that is what you want. Though the current global pandemic has changed my work trajectory, I am using the resources to help me find a path to a more complete professional path.

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