Be the Boss Over Cancer

Two plus years ago I relocated from New Jersey to Alexandria, VA.  After two months I was blessed to get hired as a Legal Secretary at a law firm in Washington, DC.  After one year and four months in that position I was "terminated" from that position, even though the HR Director said I wasn't "fired" but it just wasn't working out.  It was a mutual separation.  The female partner I assisted was a very difficult person; I was her 6th assistant in three years.  No one "in house" wanted to work with her; I lasted the longest.  One month later I landed a TEMPORARY position at a law firm in Alexandria, VA, which was supposed to last for one month but it lasted five months.

On November 8, 2012, while working in the temp position I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was shocked, scared and confused.  That temp assignment ended 11/30/12 and in December 2012 I started chemotherapy.  I have been searching for a job even while undergoing chemotherapy and have been on interviews but it seems no one will hire me.  I don't know what to do!  I seem to interview well but they always hire the other person.  I have no income, no savings, no money whatever.  I am one and 1/2 months behind in rent and am so stressed and scared that I may get evicted.  I need a job immediately. What can I do?


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  • Sarah Goodell

    Sarah Goodell on May 15, 2013

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Joann,

    Thanks for reaching out and I'm sorry that the recent months have been so stressful for you. I have sent your post to our career coaches who will get back to you soon.

    In the meantime, I would recommend that you check out some of the resources listed on our Financial Resources page here:

    I would also recommend that you check out the Flex Jobs website here: If you're currently in treatment a flexible work option may fit your schedule better.

    In terms of the interviews, I'm glad that you feel they are going well and it's great that you're getting called in for them! Can you share a little more information with us about how they're going or why you think they always hire the other person?

    We have some great resources to help you prepare for interviews, such as our Methods and Tips: and our How-To video on acing the interview:

    I hope this is helpful.


    Sarah, Cancer and Careers Program Coordinator

  • Bud Bilanich

    Bud Bilanich on May 15, 2013

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hello Joann:

    I am sorry to hear that you’re going through a tough time right now.

    The good news is that you are being proactive – looking for jobs and interviewing while dealing with the chemo. That tells me that you are a strong person who is not letting the disease get the better of you.

    Sarah has provided you with some great advice regarding flex jobs. I suggest you look into that.

    On the other hand, with your experience I bet you have some strong administrative skills. You might want to look into work as a Virtual Assistant. In some ways, this is the ultimate flex job. You work from home, setting your own schedule. You have to meet deadlines, but it doesn’t matter when you do the work, as long as you get it done.

    From your email, I take it that you need to generate some quick cash. Therefore, I suggest you look into becoming a subcontractor for a larger VA company. Check out this site:

    Being a virtual assistant will allow you some flexibility in your working hours. Besides generating income in the short term, you can continue to look for full time employment.

    If you decide that you like VA work, you can set up shop as a standalone VA after you have some experience working as a subcontractor.

    I also recommend that you check out the job search and interviewing tips Sarah mentioned in her reply to your question.

    I know that this is a particularly trying time, but with your positive attitude I’m sure you’ll get through it.

    All the best,
    Bud Bilanich

  • Margot Larson

    Margot Larson on May 16, 2013

    Career Coach Comment:


     It looks like Sarah and Bud have
    provided you with some good options. Here are a couple more thoughts
    to manage all your options.

     Make a list of the steps you can take to help relieve your stress and then prioritize them.

    Make a list of things you
    should STOP doing that are contributing to your stress.

    Move forward – one step at a
    time.  The problem is too overwhelming
    when you look at the big picture.  Take
    it a bite at a time.

     Once you have found some
    relief with the financial issue, once you have explored steps to tap into the
    Virtual Assistant opportunities, then take a good look at the job search process
    you have been utilizing.

     Here’s my observation.  Since you are getting the interviews, it
    suggests to me that your resume and cover letter must be effective and that you
    have the skill set they are seeking. 

     If you are not getting the offer, then the
    problem might be with the interview or there are too many great Administrative
    candidates in the market.

     Have you followed the steps
    to prepare for the interview? Take a look at our online resources.

    Are you sharing your
    achievements?  Are you asking good

     On the other side of the
    coin, are you sharing information in the interview that would cause you to be “screened
    out”?  Are you focusing your search only in the
    legal environment or are you seeking out other opportunities, for instance,
    small entrepreneurs,  non-profit sector,healthcare ?

     If you have a friend in Human
    Resources, you might ask them to help you by conducting a Mock Interview and
    providing you with some candid feedback. 

     Keep in touch with us, let us
    know how you are progressing so we can continue to support you in your search

     Margot Larson

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