Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician, and an award-winning author. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon. His website is www.ryanhamner.com
Everything changes after a cancer diagnosis, and the ramifications can follow you into the workplace.
"Sit down, how are you? Your resume looked great. A few of the people here saw it and Googled you. I probably shouldn't ask you this — but did you really have cancer four times," the lady asked as she sat down with a smile.
I was just about to start my interview for an SEO role at a digital marketing company that worked in the hospitality industry here in Jacksonville, Florida.
I mean, I can't hide the fact that I had cancer. Simply Googling my name will give a user quite a bit of info on me and my past, like those old MySpace photos, wow.
Now, I didn't get the SEO job. But, I was also told by the hiring manager that the other candidate had little experience in the field that they weren't as experienced as I was — an area where I had years of experience.
I later reached back out to the hiring manager about the position two other times by email. I never heard back from them, not a word. Of course, I did remind them that no, they probably shouldn't have asked me about the whole cancer thing.
I don't want to play the victim. And, I don't want to try and correlate things without any hard evidence. In other words, I don't want to say that every single time I haven't gotten a job was because of my cancer history. However, I've experienced this type of thing many times over the years when trying to find a job, and I'm willing to bet many other survivors have experienced this same thing as well.
"Now, can you tell me what your insurance and medical bills are like," one hiring manager asked me at an interview for a company in a small town in Florida.
My medical bills, you want to know what they're "like?" What are your reasons for asking these questions "like?"
"If you have doctor appointments, you won't be able to take off for them with this job," said another recruiter about a contract job I had applied for in 2018. No, I never mentioned anything about my health history previously.
"The ADA prohibits discrimination when it comes to hiring, firing, and benefits. For instance, employers cannot ask job applicants if they have ever had cancer. But employers do have the right to know if an applicant can perform essential functions of a job. Also, employers can require prospective employees to pass a relevant medical exam," St. Jude writes on its website.
Just like other types of things that aren't permitted by law, asking about a person's cancer during an interview is illegal, yet those questions and related questions get asked all of the time.
Sometimes a potential employer will tiptoe around the issue with a "legal" question. And other times, you may find yourself in odd situations that only leave you wondering and asking, "What just happened? What was that all about?"
In 2018, when I couldn't find a job in digital marketing, I took a temporary job through a friend of a friend. I asked him to please be honest and tell me if he would hire me for a position knowing my health background. Out of honesty, and to help me understand, he said probably not.
I worked in the role just over 30 hours a week until I found another digital position a few months later, through a friend. Unfortunately, that role was eliminated in a layoff.
Now, I don't want to bore everyone with the details of my work or lack of work history, but my next role was a shocker.
During two interviews with the company for a role working in SEO, I specifically mentioned the importance of health insurance. I told them I had to have it and wanted to make sure I understood all of the details of health insurance at their company. I was led to believe that I would be given health insurance within a few months of employment.
When all was said and done — the company did not have health insurance at all.
When I called them out on the issue, they voluntarily paid two months' worth of my COBRA that I was still enrolled in from my previous job. And, I opted out of enrolling in their health insurance plan for 2020, which was a great choice as the company split and left me without a job.
I get it; sometimes, people are more qualified than you. Sometimes people get laid off. Sometimes roles are no longer needed. That's just the corporate world.
However, when you start experiencing the very discrimination concerns as described on some of the largest cancer organization websites in the world. When you get asked questions during interviews that make you scratch your head, not only do you start to notice a pattern and get frustrated, but you want to know how the problem will be fixed and you want to know about that company's history with cancer survivors — like you.