Be the Boss Over Cancer

My husband and I work out, are healthy weight, don't smoke or drink.  After years of misdiagnosis I was diagnosed stage 3 breast in 2205.  My husband started acting really weird in 2007 and by 2008 had been fired from both of his teaching jobs.  He was being treated for depression, tension headaches and panic attacks when he really had a high grade brain tumor.  With my individual insurance policy my treatment expenses were over $30,000 per year.  In order to get insurance, in 2008 I left a very successful and busy career of nonprofit consulting to working for a small nonprofit.  I knew right away it was a bad situation but I wanted to tough it out until I could recover from teh financial impact of my bc treatment.  When my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2009 my supervisor put intense pressure on me about missing work.  Thinking he was only going to live 6-24 months I quit my job.  He has done very well with my full-time care but it is extremely consuming plus our financial resources are completely exhausted.  I took a CNA class because that is something that I can do on flex and weekends.  I am certified and getting ready to look for a job.

If I tell a prospective employer that my husband has a brain tumor will they be reluctant to hire me?  He has medicare and medigap so I will not be adding him to my insurance policy.  Should I come out and say that.  I have not worked (except for a few small writing and consuting jobs)  since 2009 I am trying to get legal and HR advice about how to tell my story without turning off a potential employer. 


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  • Alice McKenney

    Alice McKenney on Dec 16, 2011

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Anne,

    I have reached out to one of our career coaches to help address your questions.  In the mean time, it's worth thinking about what you will say if they ask about the gap.  For survivors who come to us with gaps on their resume from their own treatment, we sometimes tell them to say that they had a family member dealing with a health issue, and then to turn the conversation around and say something positive like "but I'd really like to talk about my work on this large grant proposal we were talking about, and I was effective in securing those funds" (as an example).  By doing this, you are redirecting their attention away from the gap after sufficiently addressing it, and leaving them aware of your skills and strengths.  

    Beyond how to handle these kinds of tricky questions that may or may not come  up in an interview, I highly recommend that you reach out to the Cancer Legal Resource Center to see what you are and aren't required to say about your husband's health (as well as your own). Their contact information is below.  If you have any additional questions do let us know.

    Toll Free: (866) THE-CLRC or (866) 843-2572 
    Phone: (213) 736-1455 
    TDD: (213) 736-8310 
    Fax: (213) 736-1428 



  • Judi Swedek

    Judi Swedek on Dec 22, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Dear Anne,

    I completely understand your concerns and wanting to be upfront about the past few years without hindering your chances of being hired. As Alice has suggested, you may want to say that you have taken some time off to support a family member's health issues. But also as she suggested, quickly turn it around to asking a question about the position you are interviewing for, e.g. "Tell me more about the scope of this job..." This eliminates the need to speak further or "over explain" and perhaps say something that you were not meaning to.

    I'd also suggest that you consider saying something like you took time off to pursue some personal interests (including the CNA class). Then go on to say how you are quite excited to be speaking with them about the opportunities...and begin to highlight your skills, abilities, and/or ask a question. Many people these days take time off, whether "forced" through a downsizing or for self-reflection or to take care of family members. It's not a negative, by any means.

    Please do not discuss your husband's health. It is personal to you and there is no need to share it for any reason during an interview nor can they ask you about it legally. So best to steer clear with a generic response and quickly remind the interviewer of why they should hire you and the benefits you bring.

    I encountered something similar when I was diagnosed with cancer and then took some time off. I always said that I took some time off to pursue personal interests, things I've never before had the time to do. And then followed with selling myself. Never once was there any further questioning.

    Practice what you will say until it becomes natural for you. Good luck and much success and let me know how things progress.

    With kind regards,


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