Julie J. on April 3, 2022
First, thank you for giving cancer patients and survivors a forum like this to help privately discuss concepts related to careers and cancer. What an amazing resource
I'm looking for tips on how to think about approaching long term career planning / talent discussions at my organization. I've been at the company for 20 years. Historically, I've been a well respected associate and strong performer. Before my diagnosis, I was a director leading large teams. Since diagnosis, I've been allowed to take a less demanding role to give me more space to focus on my health. This has been wonderful for me. However, my ultra rare cancer came back last year, making me a Stage IV patient. Right now, my treatments provide me a very high quality of life, which allows me to continue working. Since starting this treatment, my disease status has been stable for longer than expected, which is actually a surprise to everyone on my medical team. I share that because I think it's important to note that my quality of life is high, my disease burden is relatively low, but my long term prognosis is still bad. I realize anything can happen, but statistics are not in my favor and according to "statistics" (which I don't fully believe) I have less than a 20% chance of being alive in 5 years.
We are approaching talent conversations and I just don't know how to reconcile my disease prognosis with long term career conversations. I have a really hard time thinking about future career aspirations when I don't even know that I'll be alive in 5 years. Do I just fake it and plan as though I'll be around like everyone else (in which case I'd just say that I want to stay doing what I'm doing without much upward advancement b/c I love the lower key assignments they've given me) or do I ask for a pass on talent conversations because I simply don't have the luxury of assuming that I'll be alive in 5 years?
Thanks for your help!
Nicole Jarvis, LMSW
Apr 4, 2022
Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:
Thanks so much for reaching out to Cancer and Careers and sharing a bit about your current situation. I’m sorry to hear about the recurrence but it does sound like you’re feeling good now and able to keep up with the work you enjoy, so that is a major positive! I will pass along your question to one of our volunteer career coaches and you will receive a response soon. In the meantime, I’d like to respond to some of what you mentioned.
There are certainly a lot of ‘what if’s’ at play in your situation. I encourage those who reach out to us at Cancer and Careers to focus more on the present versus the potential what if’s because, ultimately, you just don’t know how reality will play out. You said yourself, your medical team has been surprised at your response to treatment. With that said, it can be beneficial to put some thought into backup plans in the event things do take a turn, but preemptively limiting yourself doesn’t sound like something you need to do right away. I hesitate to say that you ‘fake it’, but rather, I would encourage you to base your decisions on how you are feeling now. It sounds like you’d like to remain in the position you’re in currently so that you’re able to continue doing the work you love, so perhaps you go with that? Of course these are personal decisions, based on multiple factors, of which I’m sure our career coach will speak to, but again, planning for your future on your present reality, and not what could happen, can lead you to making decisions that will make you happiest. And then of course, having ideas for backup plans in the event things change is smart.
It may be helpful to read through some previous submissions in our Collective Diary, to see if there are any that speak to you, or that relate to your current situation.
Additionally, we’re always happy to chat further, so if you’d like to set up a time to speak with a Cancer and Careers staff member, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to chat.
Good luck with whatever you decide and we hope that everything works out!
Apr 6, 2022
Career Coach Comment:
Thank you so much for sharing and kudos to you for having the courage to share your story with us. As Nicole said, I am also sorry to hear about the recurrence.
The fact that you have been with your employer for twenty years is impressive these days, and it certainly appears as if they have provided you the flexibility you have needed, which is terrific to hear. Moving forward, only you can determine how comfortable you are with sharing any details about your current diagnosis with your employer. Avoiding discussions about your own career growth may force that conversation though. Also, it is not “faking it” to continue to work in the present, based on how you are feeling now, and your current quality of life, so don’t limit yourself by what could happen. As a Director there, I am sure you have experience managing others, and showing similar flexibility for your own teams as everyone has moments in their life where they are dealing with serious personal issues, health related or otherwise. Whether you choose to share your current diagnosis or not, my advice is expect the same for yourself that you would provide to your staff. Would you tell them you are limiting their own opportunities for growth because they “might not be here in 5 years”? Of course, not!
I wish you all the best, and I would be happy to continue the conversation with you.
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