Be the Boss Over Cancer

I am an RN working in a high stress post anesthesia recovery room. I really like my job. After surgery for breast cancer last year as well as reconstructive surgery,I have been dealing with severe depression. When the Oncologist put me on first one then another aromatase inhibitor, I was plunged into even worse depression,fatigue,cognitive difficulties and joint pain. I was having difficulty functioning a work. I felt I was getting forgetful. I could not retrieve words from memory and I was getting irritable,snapping at people and hostile. When I stopped taking the aromatase inhibitors,things got much better at work. Now I am faced with trying a third aromatase inhibitor, or not taking anything which will increase my recurrence chance of getting cancer. Is there some way of protecting my career while I sort these things out? I really do not want to give up or lose my job.


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  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Sep 4, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:


    I am so terribly sorry that your life has been so tough for you. In large part this is more of a legal question than a career related question. I do not know what kind of time off you have taken during your treatment and surgery or if you have taken a leave of absence? What kind of candid conversations have you had with your supervisor or human resources? If you are fearful of being fired and have there been any signs that this is a possibility? Without this info it is challenging for me to give you a useful response to your question about protecting your job and/or career.

    What I will say is that you have many factors on your side. You enjoy your job and no doubt are good at it. You value your career and don't want to give in to the side effects you experience with the aromatase inhibitors. Please know that your career will not disappear if you don't want it to. You will always have your experience, education and passion for your work. Feeling out of control and living in fear will not help your health and so it's important to know exactly what the landscape is at work. Many times it's easier to avoid asking those tough questions about a situation, and perhaps you already have done this.

    Other than asking tough questions, doing all the things that you know as an RN are crucial to your health - exercise, eating well, taking antioxidants, good friends, counseling and doing things that you enjoy are not optional for you.

    Lori, if you don't mind responding to the questions above, it might help me help you to formulate a plan moving forward.

    Take care,


  • Sarah Goodell

    Sarah Goodell on Sep 5, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Lori,

    As Julie mentioned, much of your question has to do with your legal rights. I recommend that you use the resources listed below to learn about these rights. This will prepare you to use all of the tools available to protect your job and your health. I would also encourage you to respond to Julie's questions so that she can provide further guidance. 

    • National Cancer Legal Services Network:
    • Cancer Legal Resource Center: (866) 843-2572

    I hope that this is helpful, please let us know if you have any other questions.


    Sarah, Cancer and Careers Program Coordinator

  • Lori L.

    Lori L. on Sep 8, 2012

    Hi Julie and Sarah, I have to answer your question by telling you that the work environment in the hospital where I am employed has become ever more stressful due to the present economy. Now, every thing is based on the bottom line. In part, due to falling revenues and  increasing patient loads, my hospital's bean counters, have deemed it necessary to become super efficient. Their new goal is to operate with speed,efficiency,and accountability. This means in the real world, less nurses,much more work, less skilled workers like medical assistants to help with the patient load and 100% accountability. This is all well and good, but now they are having the nurses sign behavioral based documents to assure 100% compliance by the staff. To me,this makes a nurses job almost impossible to do. I am feeling more and more like a " Stepford Nurse." Remember the book " Stepford Wives?"Fail and your out or lobotomized . Having had cancer,surgery,anesthesia,AI's, I feel especially vulnerable. I have spoken with my manager about my situation. She assures me that I am doing fine, yet if one were to make any kind of error in charting, attitude, behavior etc; they would get an E-mail back indicating that there must be nothing less than 100% compliance. All of these E-mails are kept track of making it much easier to get rid of someone. I have been there 36 years. I cost them a lot of money in benefits and salary. My manager said that I am being paranoid. Perhaps I am. But I think with good reason.  Also,  during the first part of my illness,Having had tests,surgery x 2, AI tx, and physical therapy, I was off on FLMA (Family leave ACT), for 10 weeks, then in October I was off another 6 weeks after having plastic surgery. Now I do not have enough Flma time built up to protect my job if something else should happen. I guess I just feel very anxious and not in control. I think that it to, is fueling my depression. Thank you for your kind assistance. Lori

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Sep 12, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hi Lori,

    I totally understand why you would feel vulnerable and even paranoid. All you can do is put one foot in front of another, keep a smile on your face and do the best job possible. The compliance controls in place are a reality and you can't do anything about them, unfortunately.

    I would suggest that you begin to get your job search ducks in a row, just in case. This means update your resume, try to reach out to your network and look at hospital websites to see what is going on with them. Also, identify a small group of people you trust who will give you support and advice when you need it. And you can always write to us at Cancer and Careers.

    Warm wishes,


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