Be the Boss Over Cancer

I am a registered nurse who has been out of work since Jan 2010 due to metastatic breast cancer.  I have 25 years experience as an RN but my educational level is only at a diploma level.  For the last 9 years before my mbc diagnosis I had a job that I enjoyed very much as a staff nurse in a large hospital.  It took alot of effort on my part to be diagnosed with mbc because I had many doctors telling me that nothing was wrong.  When I started 3 times a month chemotherapy in Feb 2010 I figured that I would probably die soon because I didn't feel well at all.  I lost my full time job in July 2010 the day I hit 12 weeks of FMLA.  I didn't worry much because I had been on good terms at my job and didn't think I would have a hard time getting rehired if I ever started feeling better.  Fast forward to now I have SSDI which provides a decent income but I am feeling better and really miss being around people.  I am still on 3 times monthly chemotherapy and will be indefinitely according to my oncologist.  The nursing jobs in my area are gone.  The hospitals are hiring some new graduates only.  I could start getting worse anytime I know but would like to get some kind of job while I am basically feeling fairly good.  My oncologist recommends keeping SSDI because of my continuing chemotherapy. He says that I will qualify for it for the rest of my life.  I would love a part-time job even at a local convenience store so I can help contribute to our family income and be around people some more.  I don't know how to explain why I am applying for such a lower level job than I have always worked in.  Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.


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  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Jul 19, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Rhonda,  What a journey you are on!  I wish you continued success with your treatments.  I also applaud you for sticking with your nursing job as long as you could... and for being realistic about SSDI.  That benefit is difficult to get... so I agree with your Doctor.  Keeping it is a good thing, and gives you and your family the assurance of continued income in uncertain times.

    The development in the nursing job market is fairly recent, but it is systemic.   Nurses in many regions of the country are experiencing a slowdown in opportunities.  This is reflective of the job market in general, however.  If the economy turns, so the market for nurses may go.  But, that is not a help in the immediate.

    I do have a couple of thoughts for you.  First, please check with your social security case worker to determine how much  you can earn per month to remain eligible for your benefits.  I know you can earn a small sum, but your situation is unique to you, so it is important for you to get that information directly from those with whom you work at Social Security.

    Second, I understand your desire to get out and make a contribution.  Have you considered part time school nursing, or PRN for an agency or a PT or temp industrial nursing role where you would not be on the floor, but still using your background and talents in your field?  Again, your Social Security case worker may be able to refer you to a vocational rehabilitation consultant who may be able to assist you in finding such a potential role.   If these are not possibilities for you in your area, then volunteering in an environment that would place you in a role interacting with the public may be another way to get your people fix.  I suggest volunteering in case the SSDI requires you to have a very small income only...challenging your options to find paid employment.

    If you do go after a retail job or administrative role, there is no need to fret about how you will explain your circumstances and why you would be looking for a different line of work. In this case, the economy is in your favor. So many folks have had to step back in salary, or position or level, that employers do not see it as a red flag.  They know it is tough all over.   What you will need to do, however, is show how your qualifications will help them meet their needs.   Be sure to have a few good stories and examples of how you solve problems, have good customer service skills, are personable and can think on your feet no matter what is thrown your way.

    Probe during the interview for the type of person the employer is seeking and share what in your experience proves that you have that skill or characteristic.

    It seems like a lot of preparation for what you perceive as a step off the career ladder, but showing your commitment to working and making a difference, no matter what the role, will serve you well.. and may land you just the job you are seeking.

    As far as mentioning your cancer... that is something that one would only share if the schedule required you to have time off from work to go to treatment.. or if employer sponsored health insurance requires disclosure. Otherwise,  the employer doesn't really have a need to know.  Keep your comments and interview responses light, positive and to the point.   Your professionalism and your enthusiasm will show through.

    Wishing you all the best in this search and in your treatment.

    Warmly,  Kathy Flora, Cancerandcareers Coach

  • Rhonda W.

    Rhonda W. on Jul 19, 2011


    Thanks so much for taking your time to comment to me.  What you said was both helpful and very encouraging to me.

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