Be the Boss Over Cancer

I am a 41 year old, single, self employed communications consultant currently undergoing an expected 12 month treatment path for Stage III breast cancer. When I started experiencing some major health issues early in chemotherapy, I decided to put my consulting business on hold for the remainder of my treatment and move home to the same city as my family so I can be cared for--I have also found a world-class team of doctors in this new city. But I expect to move back to MY hometown, hopefully in the next 6-9 months when most of my treatment is completed. While I've been gone (about a month), I have turned down new business but have also started hearing from other consultants that word is getting out my business isn't doing well; or they haven't "seen me around"; I've even had other consultants refer headhunters to me for FTE. I'm trying not to take it personally ("it's just business" approach) but am also annoyed that others might try to take advantage of my situation (though I know I can't control that). Questions A) When I turn down new business I have said something general, like, "I am not accepting new clients for the next few months. I'd be happy to refer you to someone else if your need is immediate, or I can check in with you in June when I expect to have more time." I don't want to get into my health issues with people I don't know but am wondering if I should say something like "I am spending the next few months focusing on a health issue and am not accepting new clients" I don't want to freak anyone out. A select few former clients and colleagues know about my diagnosis but I've tried to keep my move quiet since I hope to return. I think word may be getting around though. B) I have considered going after full time employment with an organization or firm rather than resume my consultancy post-treatment,because as if better benefits and predictable salary for the next few years might be a good thing for me. As I interview for new jobs--what do I tell potential employers I've been doing for the last few months? Do I say as little as possible and just state I'm looking for a change from self employment to something more stable? Or say I took time off from my business to address a health issue (I just think that scares people off)


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  • Jennifer M.

    Jennifer M. on Mar 18, 2010

    Alice--that thread you point out is me :-) Boy, I guess it's true, you never know what treatment might bring. My intent was to work FT through treatment but I had infections and other complications that made moving home temporarily what was best for me.

    Rosalind--thanks for your comments. As you can see, I may be "overthinking" things, or trying to control too much. Right now, I've decided to step back from work until at least chemo is over, possibly even through radiation. So I don't plan on doing any consulting work, even remotely. I don't want to share with prospective clients my situation (since they don't know me) so I've decided to keep it general ("not taking on new projects right now" and/or "am dealing with a health issue and am not working"). I prefer the first answer--that gives me more flexibility to either work with them later or at least, not "freak them out."

    What bums me out is that I feel as if other consultants might be taking advantage of my situation to benefit their own pocket, but I guess that's business and I can't control what others do.

    As for future employment, I guess you're right, don't say anything until I have an offer (and then disclose for insurance purposes) Though, DC can be a small town, I wonder if potential employers might hear through the grapevine (in which case I can't control that either!)

    I don't MIND people knowing I have cancer if they know me and my work product. But I also think CANCER "freaks" people out in general.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  • Alice McKenney

    Alice McKenney on Mar 18, 2010

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I also want to point out another thread on our site dealing with similar issues that you may also find helpful. It is located here:



  • Rosalind Joffe

    Rosalind Joffe on Mar 18, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:

    Jennifer -

    I'm impressed with how you've thought through your options and how clearly you understand the implications of your actions. But these are very tough challenges to face and no doubt, you haven't had experience with this before.

    Let's start with what you tell "prospects" or clients now. Beyond what you've said thus far, what are you comfortable with saying? Did you craft your response purely for business reasons or do you have "issues" with people knowing that you are living with cancer? Also, it's hard to create a message that doesn't get incorrectly translated third hand. From what you've written, it sounds as if you want to be sure you've got a worklife to return to. But how much can you take on now? Do you want to be more pro active or take a step back? It sounds like you're hearing some things that make you uneasy. But it's hard to know what's true and isn't and the uneasiness can be hard to manage when you're already dealing with treatment.

    As for the next job, are you ready to know what you want to do now? If so and you're sure that employment makes the most sense, it sounds like you have some time to think about this. But, you're also right that there will be some challenges there. Regarding disclosure, my experience is that this depends on whether you're experiencing symptoms that affect your performance. But, there are some benefits policies that will exclude you if you don't disclose initially. Regarding the employment gap, I don't understand why it would be an issue since you were self employed. You will get questions about why you're leaving self employment and that can make finding a job tougher. Crafting your resume and your statement will be very important so you position your strengths.

    When the time comes, you might want to get some career help so you face the return from a position using all your considerable talents and strengths.



  • Selly G.

    Selly G. on Jan 12, 2013

    It’s hard to resume the professional life after facing
    severe health related issues, and it will be required to seek the help of a
    career counselor for making the right decision. Secondly, resume writing will
    be a matter of great concern after taking a long gap due to illness, and it
    will be better to use <a rel="dofollow" href="">free resume template</a> for creating an impressive resume
    for assured success in being shortlisted for the interview.

  • Rosalind Joffe

    Rosalind Joffe on Jan 14, 2013

    Career Coach Comment:

    Selly-  I couldn't agree more with you on how important it is to create a support team for yourself as you investigate what you can do for your livelihood when you're living with debilitating health issues.   You're dealing with issues that you're unprepared for and most have little knowledge in this area - make sure your support team is made up of folks who can fill in your knowledge gap but won't just offer you advice and answers.  You need to develop your competencies in this new arena.

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