Be the Boss Over Cancer

I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in 2004.  I was upper management and had not been in my job for more than 12 months so I was forced to take disability, which I fortunately had purchased through my employer.  I have been in SS disability and private insurance since then.


I attempted to return to work once during this time and because of the small community I lived in, most people knew I had cancer and I did not get the job and I am sure that is the reason, even though it was the local hospital where I was treated.


I am now 61 and stable with only bone mets and would like to work at least part time if possible.  How do I start this process.  I am still under treatment.  What do I say when asked why I have not worked in 4 years? 


Please understand that I was an HR professional for 20 years and even I do not know the answer to this challenge. 


I worked as co-chair of our county Relay for Life last year through radiation and chemo, so I know I can be a productive person again.  I had worked for 40 years.


I know this is not a unique situation.  Can you address "Returing to work" someplace on this site. 


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  • Deirdre D.

    Deirdre D. on Sep 24, 2008

    This is a great question...I knew there were more "me's" out there, yet I don't really know where to look for a job. I have been fighting cancer for five years and a special twist to my story is I had a stem cell transplant, so being around people is a threat to my health, until I receive all my immunizations. So I thought it'd be great to set up a survivor board...listing jobs for cancer survivros, by cancer survivors. Cancer survivors I would think would be more likely to understand the limitations. What do you think?

  • Dennis M.

    Dennis M. on Sep 26, 2009

    I too am was ready to return to work. For 35 years I worked in the restaurant business, the last thirteen at a northen California Country Club as Executive Chef. Being in remission from multiple myeloma then a successul stem cell transplant. I called up my employer to remind him of the three month plan I told him about before the trandplant to return to work. It was at that point he informed me that I was being replaced because they did not know when I was going to return. My employer knew specificly that I did want to return to work and when. He chose to ingonor what I had tld him and hire someone who he had previously worked with and told he would hire in the furture. So I was forced out because I have cancer only to be replaced after thirteen years of service. It too bad practices like this are allowed to go on.

  • Annie W.

    Annie W. on Oct 22, 2009

    Sorry I don't have an answer for your situation, but maybe you can help me with my situation. I was displaced from my job during cancer treatments in Feb '09. I am currently collecting unemployment benefits. I was also in upper management, but definitely don't think I'm ready to return to that environment. Can I switch from unemployment benefits, where they ask the question if you are available and able to work, to disability status. If you say No to unemployment question, those benefits will not be paid and I really need the money.

    Also, I received payment from a disability income policy, based on my doctor's return to work release date Apr '09. But since then I'm still battling chemo-related fatigue, panic attacks, and swelling in left arm and both feet and legs. How can I collect additional disability payments ? Does doctor have to approve this ? I'm taking Herceptin til end of year. Perhaps next year I'll feel like returning to work. Any advice you can share with me I would really appreciate it.

  • P C.

    P C. on Feb 9, 2010

    Just want to comment on how a young cancer survivor like myself envy someone in his/her 60sn with a solid work history and network.

    I got cancer at 30, 4 months out of graduate school. The treatment was a few more months, but it totally messed up my professional training. I had gotten a very competitive post-graduate training opportunity, but they would not take me back after treatment - and a manager had confirmed that health was the issue. I wished I had the savvy and courage to challenge them at that time - if only to record the time at the hospital as medical leave, instead of backdating my employment date. My school career counsellor said that I was giving her a headache when I approached her for help.

    Then I went for 50 to 60 interviews for all kinds of career-track positions. From a high-flying business school graduate, I was reduced to part-time/ short contract assistant positions in the university and boutique startups, some of which would not even have medical benefits, but would instead disqualify me from medicaid because of the tiny stipend which is not even sufficient for private insurance premiums.

    I lost the contract position a few months into the recession - again a pity because I was months from having a viable professional track record for a career. Worked on commission on the business development side for the rest of the crisis.

    4+ years after the initial diagnosis, even the doctors agree that I don't need quarterly CT Scans. In the last few months, I have gone to a few interviews - not getting through though. Is it still because of the medical? Or the patchy job history post cancer? Or the insufficient training as an analyst?

    Either way, I am not sure what else I can do - re-apply to entry level graduate training programs, work in startups that are less picky, work for friends who may be more forgiving, work on contracts so that the employer does not feel the burden ... Tried them all ...

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