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On Cancer and Careers: How a Diagnosis Changed Survivors’ Jobs


We asked our audience of cancer survivors how their diagnosis affected their careers. Here’s what they had to say.

After someone is diagnosed with cancer, busy treatment schedules and the side effects that come along with it can drastically impact — or even end — a patient’s career.

In a recent #CUREConnect post, we asked our audience, “How has cancer affected your career?” Here is what our readers had to say.

Continuing to Work Can Bring Purpose, Challenges

“I’m retired now but went through intense chemo and radiation in 2021 from a double mastectomy and kept working during it. I look back now and wonder how I did it! Everything going well and I’ve been cancer free for little over a year!” — Rita B.

Working during cancer was difficult, but gave one survivor a sense of normalcy and purpose.

Working during cancer was difficult, but gave one survivor a sense of normalcy and purpose.

“I still work every day, still going through treatment. But I miss days here and there because I’m in so much pain or completely exhausted. It’s a struggle for sure, but I’m thankful for my job because the people I work with keep me ‘normal.’ It makes me feel like I’m still contributing, still have purpose.” — Diane C.

“I did not have the luxury of taking more than a week off after each surgery but was able to work remotely and still do. In hindsight, it impacted my mental health to not have more time off, which is ironic as I work in mental health, because I still struggle with the fact this was part of my really. I’ve been (no evidence of disease) for nearly two years and my health has not recovered, I may be having a recurrence at the moment, but due to my work schedule I have not had time to process and/or decompress from it all.” — Danielle G.

“I’m a teacher at a private international school, and I had the absolute gift of a semester off with pay for chemo. But neuropathy and other chemo side effects have greatly limited my mobility, and that makes it hard to do things other teachers take for granted. I can’t go up or downstairs if there’s not a railing to hold, and in this country, NOTHING is handicap accessible. My school is better than average, but it’s still not great. Things I used to take for granted, like being able to escort my class to the field for a fire drill and stand with them until it’s over, are pretty much impossible for me now. It makes me worry about my job security, because I am the only person on staff who needs accommodations, and I wonder sometimes if I might get let go because of them. (Again, disability protection isn’t a thing here.)” — Aimee S., an endometrial cancer survivor.

“I’m now chained to (my job) for the medical benefits I’ll need for the rest of my life probably.” — R. Cameron, a breast cancer survivor.

Cancer Caused a Career Change for Some

“I had to retire from my job in public relations after 22 years. But this allowed me to start my dream job as a full-time fiction writer. So I do see a silver lining in this, as hard as it’s been,” — Kelly Irvin, an ovarian cancer survivor and CURE contributor.

“After two years cancer free, my company wanted me to come back full time. I really didn’t want that and left the company. I was afraid I would not find another part-time gig. Within two months, I was contacted by Delta Air Lines for a full-time position. I explained that I was flattered, but not looking for full-time work. They met with me, and we worked out an arrangement as a contractor, where I work three days a week. It is perfect for my post-cancer lifestyle.” — Liz A.
“As a paramedic, I like to think I was empathetic to my parents and their needs, and their families. I knew they felt vulnerable in the back of my ambulance. While I may have been with them for only a couple of hours, it was a small part of a much longer journey. Now I have been on the other side — the patient — I felt vulnerable, scared, full of doubt. I saw the look I'd seen in the eyes of so many loved ones in the eyes of my wife, the look of concern and uncertainty on her face. I am a lot more empathetic now and inclined to get a bit more emotional, and stronger advocate for my patients’ needs.

“I'm still healing. It has made me grow as a human being. I've got a couple more years to retirement. My next job will be counseling and advocating, guiding people in their journey (particularly men) we are not good at seeking or accepting help despite the need.” — Paul B., a survivor of metastatic germ cell nonseminoma testicular cancer.

Cancer May Cause Some Careers to End

“We had a GREAT retirement incentive, so I retired. Now I volunteer and spread awareness.” — Alice M.

“(I) couldn’t return in six months, so I was terminated. That was the rule, if you were out more than six months in a row, you either had to come back or be terminated. Unfortunately, HR sent me a letter stating I was a burden to my department on top of it all! I was happy to leave and get myself well!” — Wanda M.

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