Be the Boss Over Cancer

I have facial disfigurement as a result of my surgery.  My facial nerve was completely damaged during the procedure to remove the tumor therefore I cannot move half of my face. It is assymetrical and similar to Bells Palsy (but this is permanent). 

I am able to work and am interviewing however I do not know how to handle the obvious issue. I have 18 years of IT experience and am confident of my skills however during in-person interviews, prospective hiring managers seem uncomfortable once they see me or are simply tuned out or distracted by my face. I think the message they process is that "something is wrong with this person and/or they are sick".   I do not want to disclose my health information and I know that they have no right in asking me.  But it's like the elephant in the room.  How do I handle this?


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  • Alice McKenney

    Alice McKenney on Jul 19, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi there,
    I have sent your post off to our career coaches, but in the meantime I wanted to share a quick resource that you might find helpful.  You might want to consider flexible work options, such as work from home or telecommuting, and a great website to find those kinds of oppurtunities is  It is a paid jobs listing site, however you can receive 50% off with the code CANCER.

  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Jul 21, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:

    S. P. ,  Your IT skills are in high demand today.   If your credentials and work experience are strong and you have kept current with the latest developments in your field, employers will be excited to interview you.  

    It seems that landing interviews are no problem... so you could be right on with the impression that they are uncomfortable now knowing why your facial  affect seems different than expected.

    Have you considered talking about the elephant in the room?   I don't mean mentioning that you had cancer and that the surgery left one side of your face immobile.  But, you could say something like this at the beginning of the interview,

     " I am so pleased to meet you and to talk about your need for a XXX(Job title.)   I look forward to exploring how my skills will match your needs.  But, before we go too far, I want to just mention that you may notice that one side of my face is immobile.  I know that the uneven appearance may throw some people off and make them feel uncomfortable.   I just want to assure you that it is something that I have learned to deal with easily.  I am certain that those who meet me in your firm will quickly learn that it does not get in the way of our working together.  So with that out of the way, let me fill you in on my background and why I think I could be an asset to XYZ Company."

    It is an unorthodox approach, but could be disarming and can put the interviewer at ease... if handled with grace and a smile.  Notice, you did not mention cancer, or even why 1/2 of your face is different.  You just brought the questions out on the table, before anyone could speculate in their mind.  You showed that you have empathy for the interviewer and that you really are ready to get down to business.

    This approach would take some courage, something that I am sure you have in spades.   But remember, there is no reason to hide your strengths and your talent because of a different appearance.  You, your mind and your heart are still strong and capable.   Go for it!  And let me know what happens if you try this.

    Warm regards,  Kathy, CAC Career Coach.

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Jul 23, 2012

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hi S.P.

    I happen to agree with Kathy. I work with people who are blind and they have to bring up their blindness because it is obvious. They mention it and then quickly move into their skills, experience and the ways that they can contribute. I coach them to encourage the interviewer to ask them specific questions about being blind and how to handle the questions comfortably.

    You are courageous and the majority of people will never really understand what you have gone through and what you experience with people's reactions now. It is important that you make yourself as comfortable with your situation as possible and often what this means is helping other people feel more at ease as well, fair or not.

    Take care,


  • S P.

    S P. on Jul 23, 2012

    Thank you both for valuable advice.  I need to work on the courage part.  It will take some more practice! 

  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Jul 23, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi SP,

    Two other recommendations, one find someone to do some mock interviews with either a trusted friend who will be brutally honest or a social worker or someone at your local workforce development center.  The more you practice your response in front of someone else and find the words that best fit to you, the more confident you will be in presenting it.  The other piece of advice I have is to get some legal advice as well (check out so you understand what a prospective employer may (and may not ask) as it relates to your health.  Kathy's reply is spot on in terms of acknowledging only the thing that can't be ignored but not giving any more info about your health but I think it would help for you to have a full understanding of the laws that protect you during this process.

    Please do stay in touch and let us know how it goes and if we can help in any other way.


    Rebecca V. Nellis
    VP, Programs and Strategy
    Cancer and Careers

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