Be the Boss Over Cancer

In March of 2008, I  was diagnosed with inoperable stage III NSCLC.  Since the completion of my treatment at the end of that same year, I have been NED.  Prior to my diagnosis, I founded and ran a hi-tech professional services company located in Redmond, WA.  Once diagnosed and given a less than optimal prognosis (physician told one to two years tops), I sold my company to my employees and focused my time and attention on family and friends. During this time, I also co-authored a book titled, "It's an Extraordinary Life - Don't Miss It". Its contents center on specific reflections of life that I felt had the most impact on living life and not missing out on the most important moments.  It contains both business and personal experiences.  I have been speaking publicly on its contents ever since and seek to use my communication skills, knowledge of the business world, and be a voice to corporations, the healthcare community and / or schools in one aspect or another.  Recently there was a job opening for an Outreach Manager with the State of Washington Healthcare Exchange.  Based upon the listed requirements/needs for the position, I felt with a combination of running a small business along with walking in cancer's shoes, I was an ideal candidate.  It turned out I couldn't even get an interview.  Even working every professional connection possible, I wasn't able to get past the HR gate-keeper.  My question to you is, what is your recommendation on bringing attention to having had cancer as part of the application process to target jobs?  I am not seeking to be defined by my cancer but seeing as how it's part of my life, is it appropriate to call out or leave behind?


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  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Mar 9, 2013

    Career Coach Comment:


    let me add further encouragement about your diagnosis.  I too was diagnosed with inoperable NSCLC
    stage 3 in 2007.  While I progressed to
    stage 4 in 2010, my current clinical trial has resulted in NED for the past
    year.  We are examples of survivors
    beating the odds and the daunting prognosis.

    understand your frustration and surprise at not being viewed as a great
    candidate for the position of Outreach Manager. Let me offer another perspective: as an achiever, a resilient survivor you might
    have withered away at a government job. 
    I suspect that you might have found the environment stifling and perhaps
    never able to make inroads you would have desired. Maybe it was the wrong job for you.

     As to your question about bringing attention
    to having had cancer as part of the application process to target jobs – this is
    risky and would probably not work in your favor in most situations as you still
    have to deal with forms of discrimination and perhaps ignorant perception.   Not
    all HR professionals and hiring managers are enlightened.

    would recommend, instead,  that you focus
    on promoting the competencies you acquired from your personal and business
    experiences in both your personal introduction, verbally and in a cover letter.
    For instance it might include: 
    Resilience, ability to adjust to changing conditions, determination,
    overcoming obstacles, a focus on goals, resourceful, change agent, effective
    advocate and perhaps more.

    would also suggest that you might find a better environment, for your talents,
    in the non-profit world, foundations and special interest (non-governmental)
    agencies , private advocacy organizations, and perhaps in some healthcare environments. Unfortunately many healthcare positions
    require advanced degrees even for positions that could be performed effectively
    by experienced, talented and trained facilitators.   Be sure to create a resume or bio that tailors
    your experience to the targeted position. 
    It’s about translating your experience for the job you want, not the job
    you’ve had.

     I hope this is helpful to you in redirecting your efforts to a next career step that can be very rewarding to you. Build and use your network in identifying the next position.


  • Toni W.

    Toni W. on Apr 24, 2013

    Hi My name is Toni, and I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma Cancer in October of last year, I had to get my right kidney removed.

    I wasn't too sure how things would turn out, but GOD has made a way out of no way for me! I'm so grateful to HIM and my doctors. I've been thinking of a career change, but I felt (1) I'm too old. (2) What would I do? (3)With a Cancer diagnosis will I be able to get  health insurance with a new job? I'm so glad I found a site that address  issues for people with cancer or who had cancer, or in remission with cancer.

    I always joke around saying I'm gonna hit the Lottery! as of today...not happening :)

  • Oliver S.

    Oliver S. on Jun 20, 2013

    I am in this boat right now. I have been working as an IT project manager for the last 2.5 years. The position is an open ended contract. Half a year into my employment I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer and my oncologist gave me half a year to a year. One and a half years I am still around, kicking and screaming and working as hard as ever. I was now told that my contract is over the end of this month. Now it means finding a new job and I am not sure how to approach the matter of me having cancer. Even if I don't bring it up in the interview, which I am not required to, eventually it will come up due to doctor visits, chemo therapy, being not as cheery the days after chemo. I have at all times being able to do my work and all my projects went live successfully. My current employer and even the agency I was getting the position through talk very highly of me and supported me in all aspects. At one point last year I even was invited as a keynote speaker at a client conference at one of our 3rd party service provider.

    I know I am able to do my job, but how do I convince a potential future employer. If it ever comes to the point where I would not be able to perform as needed I would be the first to make the decision to pull out, rather than hanging on and making things potentially more difficult for the organization,  my peers and colleagues...

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Jul 11, 2013

    Career Coach Comment:


    As I read your post, and hear you say that you would get a
    good recommendation from your current employer, I would suggest the following.

    I agree that you should not mention your cancer in
    the interview.  The only question that
    can be legally asked in the interview, after they have described the job and
    their expectations, is: 

    Can you perform this job with and/ or without

    If you are asked whether you have health issues that prevent
    you from doing the job (which is probably illegal) you can respond:  “No. My
    past employer will gladly indicate that I have performed my job very well.”

    If you feel you have to say something to feel more truthful,
    then try this:

    “Like many employees, I do have regular visits to the doctor for a chronic
    condition but it has not interfered with my job performance in the past.”

    So how do you convince a potential future employer?  The same way you would convince them if you
    did not have cancer.  Market your
    knowledge, your skills and your performance. 
    Describe your accomplishments and your contribution to your previous
    employers.  Prepare well for your interview;
    anticipate the questions that might be asked. 
    You want them to leave the interview convinced that you are the best
    qualified candidate for the job. Think of yourself as an excellent candidate for the job - not as a cancer patient.

    Oliver, remember to network to get introductions and learn
    of potential job leads rather than relying on responding to job postings.  In the meantime, you can also sign up for
    short term contracts and temporary assignments that you can work around any
    chemo or procedures.  All you have to say
    is when you are available and describe any time that you are not available as “having
    a prior commitment”.

    I hope this is helpful to you.



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