Be the Boss Over Cancer

I want to look for a new position but am afraid I will not be considered as I am currently in treatment for the next year. Any suggestion on how to handle this during an interview?


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  • Terry T.

    Terry T. on Nov 11, 2007

    Just tell them you have personal issues you are dealing with so will need set hours. If you are comfortable after starting, let them know about your diagnosis. I have found that people in general get a bit 'freaked out' about the C word, let alone employers.

  • Terry M.

    Terry M. on Jan 7, 2008

    I can really emphathize with the person asking this question. I think that one area that was not touched on by the career coach is my biggest hurdle. How do I explain Mon-Fri radiation treatment for 7-7.5 weeks? It sounded like the person posting the original question will have that hurdle as well. Some of my friends have suggested waiting until after my radiation treatment is over, but that will likely be another 3 months and I am unemployed so I have to look for a new position now and take one as soon as I get a good offer.

  • Edyie M.

    Edyie M. on Feb 10, 2008

    I am going to be interviewing for a new position in a few weeks and I am also going to be starting chemo followed by 6.5 weeks of daily radition, what is the best way to handle this/

    Thank you

  • Brenda F.

    Brenda F. on Feb 19, 2010

    I was laid off last November, diagnosed in December, had a left mastectomy in January, and now will begin chemo in March. I am still looking for work, and because many of my friends are in the same profession, I haven't told a lot of people. I don't plan on telling anyone during the interview process, but how do I handle an offer? I'm in HR myself, but feel awkward -- like I'm keeping secrets. Any suggestions on how to negotiate the time I will need? I start chemo 3/3 and will have 6 treatments 3 weeks apart.

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Feb 22, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:


    As you know the initial interview is to determine whether the job is a good fit for you and whether you are a good fit for them. You need to determine the requirements and expectations of the position.

    Are you capable of performing the job even with or without accommodations? The current statistics are indicating that a job search is taking 21-26 weeks to land a new job. Your timing may be good - start your networking and search now in order to land the job towards the end of your treatment.

    If however, you were to get an offer earlier, do you know what accommodations you will require?

    Do you how the treatments will impact you? What will be your level of energy? What degree of work flexibility will you require? HR is usually a very demanding role.

    I adjusted my career as an HR Consultant during treatment and post-treatment by accepting a virtual position as a career transition coach where I can work from my home office and plan my own schedule of work hours. This provided me with the ability to manage my energy and still enjoy the stimulation of work. Even though my side effects were limited, my energy level was drastically impacted by the chemo and radiation.

    Have you considered working as a contractor or in a temporary position which might provide you with a good deal of flexibility?

    Consider the primary interview as an exploration. Get a sense of the job, the work environment and the culture of the organization. In the second interview, or if the offer is tendered, you can explore their benefits and flexibility and then make your decision whether it is a good fit. Remember when you have interviewed candidates, health or cancer is not a topic that is discussed.

    Margot Larson - Career Coach

  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Mar 9, 2010

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Actually, cancer is covered by the ADA and even more so by amendments that came along last year.

    This article on the expanded coverage was included in our January 2009 e-Bulletin:

    Breaking News!

    Did you know that the federal government has expanded the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)? On September 25, 2008, President Bush signed into law the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which will go into effect on January 1, 2009. Even patients and survivors who previously had been told they did not qualify for protection under the ADA should investigate whether the ADAAA now provides them with the right to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADA generally requires an employer, with 15 or more employees, to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to employees and job applicants with qualifying disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.” (Department of Justice). In other words, giving the employee some form of assistance in doing the job. Reasonable accommodations may include, for example, improving access to the premises by building a ramp, work schedule modifications to give you a break, an ergonomic chair, adjusting schedules to accommodate chemo treatments, job sharing, or providing someone to lift things that you no longer can because of a surgery.

    A disability, as defined by the ADA, is a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” a major life activity. Since the ADA’s enactment, courts have generally interpreted “major life activity” in a more limited fashion, resulting in fewer people receiving reasonable accommodations.

    The ADAAA, however, amends the ADA by giving a broader definition of “major life activity” that includes, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, breathing and thinking. Importantly, “major life activity” now also includes “major bodily functions,” such as immune system functioning, normal cell growth, and endocrine and reproductive functions. Additionally, an individual with a disability is not deprived of the right to a reasonable accommodation merely because his or her condition is controlled by “mitigating measures” (something that takes away the symptoms/relieves the obvious problem), such as medications or a prosthetic device, or because the condition is in remission, or because it only arises occasionally.

    For more detailed information on the ADA and the ADAAA visit The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that investigates workplace discrimination complaints. If you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace, you may also contact Cancer and Careers for a referral to an employment discrimination attorney.

    Once again, in a case so specifically about your personal legal questions we would recommend that you contact the Cancer Legal Resource Center.

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Mar 9, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:

    I do not believe that cancer is considered a disability under the American Disabilities Act. It should be easy to check your local state for the list of protected conditions.

    I would not list a disability unless I was collecting a disability benefit from Social Security or other source.

    When you are tendered an offer, if you require an accommodation or flexibility, share it as a provision of your accepting the position.

    While you should not lie on an application form or at an interview, you also do not want to volunteer information that could screen you out.

    Margot Larson

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on Mar 9, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:

    Unemployment Compensation provisions vary from state to state. In Connecticut, you must be in the full time job market in order to collect. I suggest you call your local unemployment office and ask them what you need in order to apply and confirm to them that you are in the full time job market. You may also want to ask them what would disqualify you. Go for it.

    Margot Larson

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Mar 9, 2010

    I am sending out resumes and awaiting to hear from employers. On some of the applications they ask do you have a disablility. I answered NO...was I correct in saying no? I am currently on a low dose chemo treatment along with a cancer vaccine, healthy sustainable eating and an array of supplements. I feel great and do not see myself as disabled.

    Do I have to tell the employer at an interview that I have cancer?

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Mar 9, 2010

    Is it illegal to collect unemployment when one has cancer. I am actvely looking for work but have not yet landed a job.

  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Mar 9, 2010

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:


    Thrilled to hear you are feeling great! For any specific legal questions, I must refer you to the Cancer Legal Resource Center. They provide free legal consultations over the phone and can advise you to whether something is illegal or not. Their information is below.

    As for whether you have to tell an employer about your cancer, you do not have to at any point from the interview to being hired have to tell. If however you need some sort of accommodation on the job, then to be protected by the law you would need to tell your employer about your cancer.

    Again, I would recommend contacting the CLRC with your specific concerns.


    Toll Free: (866) THE-CLRC or (866) 843-2572

    Phone: (213) 736-1455

    TDD: (213) 736-8310

    Fax: (213) 736-1428


    Let us know if you have any more questions and good luck!


    Rebecca Nellis

    Director of Programs

    Cancer and Careers

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Sep 7, 2010

    I too am looking for employment whilst going through chemotherapy.

    I plan to address my 'accommodation needs' when discussing an offer. Can you please provide additional and more specific suggestions for how to handle this.

    I hesitate to reveal too much personal information.

    However, If I say I need a personal day every 2-3 weeks to address a personal matter - I am concerned this creates unnecessary suspicion - and perhaps resentment from other employees.

  • Brenda F.

    Brenda F. on Sep 7, 2010

    I did not reveal any of my situation during the interview process. I decided to wait until I received an offer. When I did receive the offer (which usually comes via the recruiter), I then called my new manager and talked with her about the situation. I figured I would know whether I really wanted to accept the job based on how she responded. I kept the message simple: "I am going through chemotheraphy; I have 6 cycles and will need one day off every 3 weeks for my infusion; at this time, I don't think I will need any additional time." She responded positively so I started my new job 10 days after my first chemo. I have been there almost 6 months and I'm glad I handled it the way I did.

  • Carol M.

    Carol M. on Sep 8, 2010

    I concur with the straight forward discussion with the hiring Manager. I do not have a defined start-stop period for chemo. I will need to approach as an on-gong accommodation. I hope my next employer will be as supportive as your new employer.

  • Patti C.

    Patti C. on Sep 8, 2010

    We relocated from WA State to PA State in April, 2009 in order to be a part of our first grandson's life. I had started looking for work in late summer but discontinued the search when I was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer in early October. I have had 2 surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and ongoing herceptin infusions. I am nearing the end of active treatment - I have 2 more herceptin infusions, and then I have an appointment to have my infusion port removed. After that I will be followed for the next 5 years while on Femara, if I am able to tolerate it - I was unable to tolerate Tamoxifen. I have been looking for work online for the past few months, initially volunteering my current medical situation when called for an interview, and now I just have a paragraph in my cover letter to avoid embarrassment. My concerns have been with the time I would need to take off from any new job for appoinments, and I didn't want to feel like I was being deceptive regarding my situation. When would be a good time to hold off on disclosing my medical condition? Any tips on landing a job after cancer treatment, as well as confidence building? Thank you for your time.

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Sep 11, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:


    This is an understandable and real concern for you to have. Every situation is different of course however I usually recommend you get to the point of receiving an offer before you divulge your situation to your potential employer.

    Be sure that you will have the energy and psychological mindset to start a new job and sustain the hours you will have to work before you start looking. If you are sure of this, then start looking because right now it takes a longer time to find the right job and you could have completed a number of months of treatment already and know exactly what it takes schedule-wise to manage your treatment with the rest of your life.

    Some people accept a new job without telling their employer about their treatment and others don't simply because they would not be able to avoid it. Ideally a job that enables you to work from home a few days a week is great and so many people ask for this now as a benefit, not just because they are ill but also because of childcare or eldercare issues.

    So be optimistic and if you are really ready, start your job search!

    Take care,


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