Be the Boss Over Cancer

I was self employed when first diagnosed with breast cancer late in 2009. After some complications early in my chemo treatments, I decided to take 2010 off to focus on my treatments and health, returning to my hometown to live with my family. I believe that taking that time off helped my health and will allow me to return to work that much faster in 2011. I've decided to pursue a job as a FTE rather than return to my consulting practice. I stepped away from work completely in 2010 but did some blogging, some writing, and volunteering for cancer groups. I started doing some interviews and sending my resume out and the feedback has been interesting so I thought I'd share some of the comments I'm getting in case its useful to others. After reading this blog, I decided: 1) Not to share anything up front about my diagnosis; 2) State in my resume that I am currently a consultant without reflecting any sort of interruption in work; 3) However, in phone interviews and cover letters, I state that I stepped away from work and relocated to address a "family health issue" I've had a couple of HR folks make a point of asking for "recent" work samples and names of "current" clients. My sense is that, with the current employment climate,there are so many people that have been unemployed for months if not years, there is an automatic skepticism when you say you're a consultant. I simply said I was sharing work that was reflective of what I do...But wonder if that was a time to be more honest with the HR interviewer? I don't want to make it seem like I'm lying but I also want to get my foot in the door. Question: A) Should I put something on my resume to reflect the work interruption in 2010? B) Should I "come clean" about my cancer treatment in 2010 in a second/third/fourth interview, or simply wait until I get an offer, or never say anything at all? I have a feeling I may ultimately reveal it depending on the person I'm talking with... Thank you!


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  • Jennifer M.

    Jennifer M. on Jan 12, 2011

    Thank you for the reply.

    After I explained to one recruiter that I was a consultant but had stepped away from work this past year to address a family health issue--one recruiter asked me for specific clients I've had "recently" along with "recent" work samples

    I provided work samples that are representative of my work (which happened to be a year old--prior to diagnosis).

    Is there another way to work around a question like that?

    Is it better to not say anything about stepping away from work this past year?

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Jan 12, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for writing. It's always helpful to our readers to hear other people's insights and experience.

    My responses to your questions are:

    A. I would not put anything on your resume to highlight the gap in work. You are still a consultant even if you weren't actively working. Unless you "officially" closed your consulting practice?

    B. I don't see the point in talking about your 2010 cancer treatment. Is your treatment completed now? If so, I would just focus on the future in your job search. Once you accept a job and develop a trusting relationship with your boss, you may decide to tell him/her but for now it isn't necessary. If someone were to directly ask you if you were ill, then of course you would answer honestly but otherwise I wouldn't.

    Good luck!


  • Greg F.

    Greg F. on Apr 6, 2011

    I was out for cancer surgery in late 2008 and greeted with an IRS audit that consumed most of 2009, back to work in 2010.  I divulged my health issues as part of securing group life insurance and am suspicious that this threw a scare into my employer who laid me off recently in connection with an acquisition.  Officially, my position was eliminated.

    I am disinclined to get tangled up in legal wrangles at this point in life.  My question is, realistically, how confidential is this private information in a typical company of 100 people? Was the life insurance worth the risk of 'exposing' myself?

    As to gaps, I have no apologies for choosing to try something else for a few years.  I do have the luxury of showing that I got back in the saddle and was productive, so there is some recent (but scant) history.

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