Be the Boss Over Cancer

Hi--I am a three-time breast cancer survivor.  When I was first diagnosed in 2001, I had already been a stay-at-home mom since 1999.  Now that my children are older, I am thinking of going back to work (mainly to boost college and retirement savings). 

My question is this:  After having been out of the job market for 12 1/2 years as well as being a three-time survivor, am I nuts to think anyone would want to hire me?  Physically I am doing well, although I don't think I could work full-time, and certainly can't be on my feet for any length of time.  My previous job was with the federal government, and I have a master's degree.  Thanks for any advice!


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  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Jan 12, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Kay,

    We will pass your question along to one of our coaches.  In the meantime, in terms of the gap on your resume unlike many of the people we hear from you had chosen to step away from the workforce before your cancer so though you will have to field the question about the long gap it is unlikely that you will find yourself in a position to have to discuss your cancer history.  Instead, you will need to focus on how to sell your skill set and experience despite being away for such a long time.  The key will be to update your resume in a way that best reflects what you could offer a prospective employer, making sure to include any volunteer work or consulting you may have done over the years (like did you head up a committee for a child's school or stuff envelopes for a local charity?).  If you aren't on LinkedIn, that should be one of the first things you do to get back in the game.  It is critical to reconnect with former colleagues and peers because about 85% of jobs are found through networking and not ads or headhunters.  For help in crafting a strong profile read:

    In addition, you might want to check out this blog written by an expert on flexible jobs (e.g. working from home, working longer hours on fewer days, working part-time, etc.):

    Good luck and please feel free to write again with any follow up questions!


    Rebecca V Nellis
    Director of Programs
    Cancer and Careers

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Jan 12, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:

    Kay S–

    No you are not nuts. We applaud you!

    Your strategy for finding work is going to be a bit different than someone who is moving from one job to another.

    First, let’s start with your identifying your strengths, your skills and your competencies. These relate to work in some circumstances but should include your life in general. The first word that comes to my mind is: Resilient. There are many others that reflect your life as a cancer patient and a stay-at-home mom. (perhaps resourceful, patient, adaptable). You should also include any accomplishments from volunteer experience.

    Second, think of the last 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. When exploring opportunities, I would not bring up your cancer battle in conversations. There is plenty of time for that later. Think of it this way: Now that your children are older, you are interested in finding a stimulating opportunity to use your skills and make a contribution on a part time basis.

    Once you have generated a list of your strengths and skills, go through the resources on our website to develop a resume and prepare for networking and interviews. You may want to focus on a Functional Resume rather than a Chronological one. Make a list of the types of positions and employers that appeal to you. Then start your networking, to get introduction and seek inside information about those potential employers.

    You did not indicate the type of work you have done before. Is it customer related, analytical, behind the scenes? You need to transition those skills, interests and experiences to your new career track.

    Have fun with the exploration. Don’t hesitate to use local resources of job search networking groups, human resource professionals, seminars or a career coach you might know to help you prepare and connect.

    Hope this helps. Try out some jobs – as you know, nothing in this life is permanent.


  • Kay S.

    Kay S. on Jan 15, 2012

    Thanks for the good advice.  Since it will probably be 9 months to a year before my children are in a situation where working is an option for me, I think I have some time address these issues and maybe even take a course or two to brush up my skills--or learn some new ones! 

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