Be the Boss Over Cancer

Exactly one year ago, I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I opted for the most aggressive treatment (5 months of chemo and 8 weeks of radiation) and today feel great and expect to make a full recovery. My treatment was challenging as my husband initiated divorce proceedings and I have four children. I was in the middle of trying to find full time employment when I was diagnosed last year. My part time employer was very supportive about my schedule, etc but now that I am ready and healthy and truly need a full time job, they seem reluctant to make the shift. I have a masters in teaching and some experience in sales. My efforts to find other full time employment or even a teaching position have resulted in zero...people know about my illness and seem worried about absenteeism and a long term relapse even though my oncologist assures me I have an 86% chance of making a full and complete recovery. Re-entering the job market full time after a 20 year absence (I was a stay-at-home mom but have a resume rich in volunteer work was hard enough but add a life threatening illness to my resume and you begin to see my problem.) Despite insurance, I am getting slammed with medical bills. I want to work...I am ready to work full time but need help getting in the door. Any suggestions?


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  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Aug 20, 2007

    Career Coach Comment:

    You have suffered a full battery of traumatic multi-stressors and have handled them admirably. Hopefully you have and continue to pursue psychological and emotional support from professionals and loved ones for your divorce, your illness and your financial challenges.

    As for your job search, you have a lot to offer a potential employer including viable work experience, rich volunteer experience, education and most important an enthusiasm for getting back to work full-time. The process of finding a full-time job is not unlike the process any stay-at-home Mom or career changer would take:

    1. Identify your specific skills (e.g. teaching, training, organizing, selling, managing projects, etc.) that you’ve developed. At your age you have at least 20-30.

    2. Make a list of fantasy jobs, realistic jobs, and industries that appeal to you. Look at the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (published by the Dept. of Labor) to identify some of these things.

    3. Narrow it down to 3-5 possible jobs and reach out to your network to find people who work in those jobs. Contact them and ask to meet for an informational meeting to learn more about what they do and potential obstacles and opportunities.

    4. Decide on two potential jobs and identify all of the companies who could hire you.

    5. Revamp your resume to pull out the skills and experiences you have. For example, if you want to do fundraising or development for a non profit, you’d stress your sales and volunteer experience.

    6. Systematically approach every possible company or organization through networking, visiting their websites to look at job postings, job boards, internet social networking, and headhunters.

    7. Keep plugging and you will find a job. And by the way, if you believe that everyone knows about your illness, then the world you’re operating is way too small and needs to be broadened considerably.

  • Terry T.

    Terry T. on Nov 11, 2007

    I am dealing with a very similar situation as I live in a small town and everyone knows everyone. Please keep plugging along. If you can find the right someone who knows someone (which can just sort of happen in a smaller town), that obviously is helpful. Also, it is good if you can find someone (or 2 or 3) who is sympathetic to your cause who can help you network.

  • Claudia B.

    Claudia B. on Dec 7, 2007

    Did you know that, unless you are seeking an in demand job, you will have a difficult time, when you attempt to go back to work? The job hunting challenge increases with each year that you were a stay at home mom. The older you are, the more likely you will be to have to settle for less pay. If you were not lucky enough to have selected a profession that you could leave and then return as desired, finding work will not be easy. For the most part, you should not hope for, or expect a similar income, as the one you had previously. You may have to start from the ground floor or even venture into a totally different career. Remember, that you can protect yourself and prepare yourself WHILE you are still a stay at home mom. Please, take heed.

    Keep all of your certifications and licenses current. Obtain letters of recommendation from people who were complimentary of you, while you were in the work force. Keep a provisional resume and update it constantly. Include any positions that you have held as a volunteer and explain your duties and responsibilities. You may be surprised at how many of these details might impress a potential employer and help your resume to stand out! As we know, time gaps are not a good thing to have on a resume. You will also need to explain these gaps during an interview. You want to present yourself enthusiastically, creatively and positively. Be forthright and let all know that you are proud of the time that you spent as a stay at home mom and all that you accomplished. Do not be apologetic or embarrassed. Instead, be excited about rejoining the work force and mention all of the things you have to offer.

    It’s important for an employer to see that you are adaptable, able to multitask, willing to work hard and be a team player. How better to inform him, than letting him know things like, I served as the president of the PTA for 4 years and during that time, the PTA implemented several of my suggestions, which helped the PTA’s operation move from being in the red to being in the black, for the first time in 23 years. Then, you can present the letter from the school board, thanking you for the PTA’s successes during your presidency.

    If the position that you are seeking is in sales, your being in charge of the Girl Scout cookie sales in your county, may help you obtain the job. You might state something like, While I was in charge of the county’s cookie sales, we implemented my idea of, teaching the girls positive sales techniques and offered large bonuses to the highest sellers. There were over two thousand more boxes sold during my tenure than in any previous years. Present the letter to you from the head of the Girls Scouts of America, thanking you for your inspiration and hard work.

    In addition, if you worked from home in anyway, this may also be mentioned on your resume. If you were a member of a baby sitting co-op, you can accurately and honestly mention the role you played and your duties. Gather letters of recommendation that express your successes. Do not forget to add the specifics of your days as a stay at home mom and corporate wife, if that pertains. Detail the things that you did to help your husband’s advancement. If you entertained or were involved in activities that promoted your husband’s career or helped his company, many might be worth pointing out.

    By including facts such as these, you will have explained the time gap in an impressive way. If the resume is written cleverly, there might not be any time gaps. The potential employer hopefully, will see a courageous, hard working, stay at home mom who would be an asset to a company, even though the reality is that, you have not been in the work force recently. Prepare yourself and believe in yourself as you venture through this new chapter of your life.

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Sep 3, 2008

    I have been at home for 7 years now. My youngest son is now in the first grade. I would like to get back to work. I use to be in the IT field. I was an Information Security Analyst. I am currently going back to school to get my A+ Certification. But I still have another year and a half to go. I need to work for financial and other reasons. I am finding hard for anyone to look at my resume. Help

  • Lori B.

    Lori B. on Jul 31, 2009

    I too was a stay at home mom, but going through a divorce when I was diagnosed the first time w/stage 2 breast cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes. Three years later I had a recurrence, mastectomy and reconstructtion. This has put me out of the workforce for 20 years. I have only worked part-time, for low wages, as the Arimidex I am on gives me insomnia and lethargy. I am somewhat fearful of the stress on both my body and mind in working full time, not to mention how different it is with everything being on-line now.(applications/resumes) Almost every job states you must know excel, word, etc. While I know how to type and use the computer, my skills are not as proficient as a 30 year old competting for the same job. I am 52, and if I even mention cancer during an interview, I never hear from them again! I had previously taught K-12, but my certificate expired, and I would rather work w/adults at this time. Perhaps I should return to school, but need income at the same time. Can I handle going to work AND school? I am lost and overwhelmed...Any advice would be very much appreciated!

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Aug 3, 2009

    Career Coach Comment:

    Dear Lori,

    I commend you for overcoming some monumental challenges!

    Your concern about maintaining your health and minimizing stress is valid. It sounds to me as if you probably should identify a new career that requires minimal additional education or certification. I'd pick up a copy of Do What You Are by Paul Tieger or the Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore. The reason I advise this is because it sounds as if you haven't clearly identified what you can do next work-wise. It is typical for people to shy away from the topic of cancer and I don't advise that you bring it up in initial interviews.

    Once you have identified one or two possible job paths, I would approach your job search systematically by identifiying a target list of companies, attending new networking and job search support groups and perfecting your elevator speech (or two-minute drill) to sound confident and competent.

    I will tell you that people are doing all sorts of things to earn money and many are doing a combination of things to get benefits, earn money and find fulfillment. It may be another year before you can work in a job that is the right fit for you but the important thing is to identify a few paths that are more interesting to you and work toward making them happen, a very small step at a time. While age discrimination does exist, particularly in larger companies, 52 is not too old!

    Please write back if you would like further advice.

    Take care,


  • Lori B.

    Lori B. on Aug 3, 2009

    Thank you Julie. I so appreciate your evaluation, which was very accurate, and all your advice for the future. I will definately read one of the books mentioned. God bless-Lori

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