Be the Boss Over Cancer

I work as a float staff nurse in a large hospital. I float to about 15 different floors. About 4 1/2 years ago when I was finished with my chemotherapy/radiation and had hair back already I worked one night on the oncology floor. When I got there they were doing construction and I could smell a bad smell. Before even starting when I was still in the break room looking at my patient's cardexes I started crying because I was feeling sick from the smell. They sent me home and reassigned my patients. They did not have a bad night that night I found out later even with 1 less nurse at the last minute. I didn't think anything else about it except that it would be a hit to my attendance record (which was and still is very good), until the next day when my float boss called me and said that they never want me back on that floor again because they think I have "issues with having had cancer" I had worked on that floor all during the time I was getting chemo/radiation and afterwards and had never heard anything but praise for my work. At this point it was a new director for that floor. She said that it didn't have anything to do with my nursing care. She is right that I didn't and still don't make the best cancer patient. I didn't have any more problems with that floor as I never got assigned there until just a few days ago when I was floated there by the floor I had been assigned to work at for the day. I went to the cancer floor and told them that they had said that they never wanted me to work there again, and then went and told one of my bosses that I was going to leave for the day and he did not have any disagreement with that. I wrote my main boss a note and related the circumstances of the morning. She now wants to talk to me in person about the situation. She was my boss also 4 1/2 years ago when this situation first came into being. None of it was ever put on paper. I now have metastatic bone cancer and our workplace is well staffed for the most part due to the present economy. I am worried about this talk with my boss and don't know if I have any rights in this situation since none of it was on paper. I have the feeling that this is not going to be a positive conversation. I would appreciate any advice?


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  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Oct 13, 2009

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Rhonda,

    I am the Director of Programs for Cancer and Careers and I wanted to suggest that you speak with someone at the Cancer Legal Resource Center, they are a nonprofit that provides pro-bono counseling on legal and insurance issues and they might have some advice about how to approach the conversation and what rights you have that you may not be aware of. We work very closely with them and their info is below! Also, I will alert our coaches to your question for additional thoughts on how to go about this.


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

    Phone: (213) 736-1455

    TDD: (213) 736-8310

    Fax: (213) 736-1428




  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Oct 14, 2009

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hi Rhonda,

    I absolutely want to reiterate what Kathy and Rebecca have recommended that you do first which is seek legal advice before having a discussion (even informally) with your direct boss.

    The practical advice that I have for you may sound obvious but is important to know. Once you have received legal advice, I recommend that you do the following:

    - Write down your key talking points and practice them with someone who is objective and trustworthy.

    - Remember to breath and pause often while you are talking.

    - Maintain a confident demeanor, even if you are nervous by maintaining direct eye contact, trying to smile, and talking in short phrases or sentences.

    - Do your best to understand your bosses' frame of mind regarding your situation. If she says something that you don't understand, try to paraphrase her so that she will explain it in a different way.

    - Try not to leave the discussion before understanding what action steps are next on her part or yours.

    - Avoid sounding defensive or upset.

    Please write again if you need more help. I am sending warm thoughts your way.

    Take care,


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