Be the Boss Over Cancer

I was diagnosed only a month after graduating college.  I continued to work at a retail job I hated at I went though my treatment.  I even took a few college classes to keep my brain intact.  When I was pronounced "stable," I went back to school and just graduated with a Masters in Communications/Marketing.

I have been told by many of my professors as well as my therapist that what I have done in the past few years is miraculous.  I have read some comments on this site that say NOT to divulge any medical information to an employer until you are hired.  I view what I have done as a result of my diagnosis is an asset.  I have very little experience in my field of study and need to concentrated more on what I can do for a prospective company, which include many of the things I demonstrated as a survivor.

I live in Massachusetts and healthcare is not an issue here as we have an individual mandate and it is illegal to turn someone down for a job or insurance because of a previous medical condition.

I would like some input regarding this and anything anyone can say will be helpful.


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  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Jul 30, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you so much for reaching out!  We have sent your post off to one of our coaches as well but in the meantime, I wanted to say you are absolutely not the first person to feel that their cancer is an important part of their story.  We definitely hear from people who can't imagine not sharing and would not want to work somewhere that didn't understand such a huge part of their experience and recognize the assets it brings to the table.  They are in the minority though.  Most people would prefer to approach the job search focused on their professional abilities and not have their health be part of the conversation.  I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you might be able to highlight the skills you correlate with your survivorship in other ways in order to truly assess how critical disclosing your cancer is.

    You are lucky to live in MA where insurance isn't an issue, however that isn't the only reason that potential employers can be prickly about the revelation of a diagnosis.  People bring their own experiences and knowledge to bear on any situation and fair or not that can have an impact on how you are received in an interview.  Another thing to note, legally a prospective employer can not discuss your health status with you or ask any questions beyond can you perform the job duties as outlined  even if you bring up your cancer history.  So remember if you do share in an interview and you get an abrupt response or a quick shift of the conversation it may not be a negative but rather an interviewer knowing the law.  More info on legal and insurance issues can be found here

    One more thing to think about is, is it important that prospective employers know about your cancer or is it important that you can share that part of yourself once you have a new job?  If what is really important is that your future workplace know then you might want to consider holding off on sharing during the interview process and instead make sure that while you are going through that process you are assessing what kind of environment the workplace is and whether you think you and your desire for open-ness would fit in.  Asking questions about the culture of the place would help to determine what kind of place it is.

    Finally, CAC has a lot of content about the job search process, which can be found here:

    Good luck and let us know if you have any additional questions!


    Rebecca V. Nellis
    VP, Programs and Strategy
    Cancer and Careers

  • Robert S.

    Robert S. on Jul 30, 2012


    Thank you for your prompt response!  I wish job opportunities would respond as quickly!

    I have been unsure as to how to weave in my story so I have not yet put it in anything job-related.  I know that people have different reactions to such a disclosure and I do not like making people uncomfortable with my disease.  Instead, I have been using the strengths I've accumulated in the last few years to describe myself and per your suggestions, I will keep doing so.

    I have one more question.  Is there available a database of survivors with which I can network?  I've had a few people try to connect me with other survivors to get their take, but I am wondering if there are any industry-specific networks of survivors.  I have seen some on facebook but due to its rocky privacy issues I have nu pursued it as an option.

    Many thanks,


  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Jul 30, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Robert,

    You are very wise to tread lightly with Facebook (and any social media that has constantly evolving privacy settings).  I don't know of a database specifically geared to this purpose.  You could join the CAC Google group and pose your questions there (we have 120 members currently), And, the other thing I would recommend is attending some cancer community events where you'd have the opportunity to connect with people who have experienced some of the same things you have.  You might want to check out, which has a thriving network of survivors under 40.  Also, your local Gilda's Club or Wellness Community might have events that would resonate with you and offer you the chance to meet people going through similar things.  Lastly, there is Imerman Angels, who connect people going through cancer with survivors of the same cancer (and who have similar attributes, like age, work situation, etc.).  I am not sure if they have anyone they could connect you with given that you are post-treatment but they are amazing and might have some thoughts as well.

    Let me know how it goes,

  • Robert S.

    Robert S. on Jul 30, 2012

    Great!  I will check this out!


  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Jul 30, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:


     First, my hats off to you for your success dealing with your
    cancer as well as having the foresight to remain involved and stimulated during

    Since I am also a cancer survivor as well as a coach, I
    understand your willingness to talk about your life achievement and the
    positive impact on your character and competencies.  My background is in Human Resources with a
    lot of experience in recruiting.  Sure it
    is illegal to turn someone down for a job or for insurance.  However, there are many reasons to select a candidate
    and to screen out a candidate that has nothing to do with health.  It would be great to be able to rely on
    transparency, integrity and inclusiveness in the hiring process.  I can tell you, first hand, that while it
    exists, it is not common.

    The perfect strangers that reviews your resume, who schedule
    the interviews, who  can hire or
    recommend hiring you,  all have personal
    experiences and biases that can impact their judgment and decision and you will
    never really know why you were “de-selected” or “screened out”.  With so many candidates available to them,
    they may not take the time to know you. That’s why, we advise candidates not to
    discuss their health issues with a potential employer.  On the other hand, you could get lucky and
    speak to someone who would in fact hire you because of your accomplishment and
    out of compassion.

     I advise you to utilize the skills and competencies you have
    built over the past year to give your resume impact.  You probably can use qualities such as:  resilient, resourceful, committed, initiative,
    productive focused on your goals, etc…

     Since you indicate that you do not have much experience in
    your field, I would suggest a couple of approaches.   First, volunteer with an organization where
    you can be visible, use those talents and your knowledge to create an
    experience, relationships and recommendations that will benefit you in a paid

     Second, network your way into the job.  Learn about how to proceed to develop
    relationships that will speak on your behalf to potential employers.  Your network consists of Acquaintances,   Allies and Advocates. Work with those who
    know you, who know about your experience, your spirit, your talents and what
    you have overcome.  Let them influence
    those at a high level who can hire you because of who you are and what you are
    capable of.  You are using their
    credibility to sell you and to overcome any concerns or biases that a hiring
    manager might have.  This will allow you
    to bypass the traditional screening process in the early stages of job search.

     Robert, also watch out what you post on Facebook, LinkedIn and such social media. Recruiters often do a search of candidate as part of vetting candidates for employment.  Once posted, you probably can't retract undesirable information. To connect with other survivors, check out, and other  cancer-specific chat rooms. You will find very helpful peers.

    I hope this helps.


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