Be the Boss Over Cancer

Chasing Life is a new series on ABCFamily about April Carver, a 24 year-old aspiring journalist, who learns she has Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The show follows her through many of the challenges that cancer patients face: coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis and the fragility of life; chemo and its side effects; sharing the news with family and friends; finding support; dating; fertility and most relevant to our mission—balancing work and cancer.

All of these are important issues to consider when either you or someone you know has cancer. There are lots of ways to handle a cancer diagnosis—and just as many organizations out there willing to help. In this blog I want to highlight some of the events related to April’s career.

The importance of working during cancer
During one of the first episodes April said, “This isn't just a job to me…” We couldn't have said it better. For most people, work is so deeply tied to their identity. Just because someone is diagnosed with cancer, doesn't mean they no longer identify with work or want to stop working. In a Harris survey conducted by Cancer and Careers in 2013, we found that aside from financial reasons, identity-related reasons were the most important factors for cancer patient’s choosing to continue working during treatment.

Sharing the news at work
Making the choice about who, when and what to tell people at work is entirely yours. Most people, like April, don’t want the news that they have cancer to affect their career. As a young journalist, April was working hard to impress her tough editor in order to take on big assignments. She feared that if anyone at work found out she had cancer, she would no longer have the opportunity to earn those kinds of stories. Unfortunately, April wasn't able to keep it a secret very long; Her friend accidentally told her editor—and the editor didn't keep quiet at work.

When a coworker has cancer
Once April’s coworkers found out that she had cancer, many were unsure how to talk to her or they started treating her differently. Our website has a page for coworkers to learn what to do or say when you learn that a coworker has cancer.

For cancer patients who are faced with awkward situations or questions from coworkers, we recommend using “the swivel”. This tool allows you to “swivel” from an uncomfortable question to a topic more relevant to the situation, such as a project at work. Here’s how it would work for April, as an example:

Coworker: April, I’m so sorry to hear you have cancer. My Uncle had cancer.
April: Thanks for sharing that. What did you think of the debate last night? I’d love to get your input to help me with a story I’m working on…

Know the laws that protect you at work
There are many laws in place to protect cancer patients at work. For example, employers are not allowed to share your personal health information with anyone, ask you about your health in an interview, or fire you for getting cancer. But as in Hollywood—and in real life—that doesn't mean people will always follow the law. Check out our Legal & Financial articles to learn more about the laws to protect you at work. As for April, it seems she’s been able to handle the word being out after her editor shared the news at work, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that things won’t change once she starts treatment.

The summer finale of Chasing Life airs next Tuesday, August 12th at 9pm EST on ABCFamily. We will be anxiously waiting to see how the rest of April’s work and cancer journey unfolds. Remember, if you or someone you know has cancer be sure to seek out the support you need and feel free to reach out to us at cancerandcareers@cew.org

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