Be the Boss Over Cancer

So confused on what to do. I was diagnosed with cancer and got a job offer the same week. I really want this job but not sure if I should take it given I am at the beginning of my journey. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!


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  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Sep 2, 2011

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Debbie,

    This is definitely tricky and overwhelming too I am sure.  I have sent your post off to two of our coaches but in the meantime could you give us all a little more detail about your situation so that we can give you the best thoughts possible?  What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with and what is the treatment plan?  What kind of job is it and what will it demand from you? 

    Lastly, as part of your fact finding to make this decision, you should talk to your healthcare team about the job offer and why you would like to take it and what it will demand of you.  They can be critical partners in helping you decide what is feasible given your particular diagnosis and treatment.

    We look forward to hearing back from you.


    Rebecca V. Nellis
    Director of Programs
    Cancer and Careers

  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Sep 2, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Debbie,  Congratulations!  Job search these days is grueling and you made it!  What an accomplishment to land a job you really want.

    From what I can tell from your question, you are still in the preliminary stages of finding out what your diagnosis will mean for you.   The type, stage, treatment protocol etc. for your particular kind of cancer may make a big difference in how you proceed, so I would make a phone call to your physician right away to gather as much information as you possibly can about what the near future may hold.

    It is a difficult call for you to make without that information.  But, remember, that cancer is a temporary situation for most of us who go through the experience.   Your job may be just the ticket you need to help you emotionally and financially through the journey.  Please don't write off the offer.   Take steps to find out as much as you can... then, carefully weigh your options.   If you think it will work out that you may only need a few mornings a week, for example, for treatment; then confiding in your new employer that you may have to adjust your schedule a bit up front may work for you.

    I have found that employees have success by only revealing what employers NEED to know in order to approve accommodations.   So, if you do accept the offer, and you find you need to tell your employer, work closely with an advisor to craft your message so that it will address their potential concerns and how you will be able to maintain your role.   Don't promise what you cannot or may not be able to deliver... but be clear, factual and as focused on the future as you can be.  No one knows exactly what your future... or anyone's future, for that matter, will bring.   But taking the steps to gather information then plan accordingly is all you can do to make it the best future possible. 

     Best of luck to you in your future treatment... and in your new job!  Kathy, Career Coach for

  • Debbie F.

    Debbie F. on Sep 2, 2011

    Thanks so much! They found tumors on my ovary and appendix but are unable (so far) to identify the primary. They thought it was GI related but just had clean tests. So there are a lot of unknowns still. The job is to run marketing for a division of Disney/ABC, which I would love. You gave good advice and I will be honest with my potential new employer and try to get as much info from my doctor as I can. Thanks.

  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Sep 2, 2011

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi again Debbie,

    Neither Kathy nor I are recommending you say anything to your potential new employer until you understand the scope of the diagnosis/treatment.  I would also suggest you speak with an attorney so you understand your legal rights and responsibilities and then with all of that information make a decision about whether, what and how much to disclose to your potential new employer.  It is a delicate situation and you want to have thought through all the scenarios and make a decision to tell or not based on what feels right to you once you have gotten as much information as possible.

    There is a wonderful organization called the Cancer Legal Resource Center ( that provides free legal information.

    Assuming you choose to take the job, whether you tell or not, there will be many things to think about and juggle as you work through treatment.  Our site has a lot of information to help you on your way, in addition please feel free to reach back to us once you have all your information collected.

    Lastly, I am not sure where you are located but if you happen to be in LA we are hosting an event in Santa Monica in October ( and if you happen to be in NY we have a regular support group for working people with cancer.

    Good luck!


  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Sep 9, 2011

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Debbie,

    I just wanted to write again and find out how it is all going.  What did you decide to do about the job offer?


  • Debbie F.

    Debbie F. on Sep 11, 2011

    I ended up taking the job and told my new boss about my situation. She was incredibly supportive, thankfully!

  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Sep 11, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Wow!  You trusted yourself and look at the great outcome!  CONGRATULATIONS, on both your job and your faith that you will do what is right for you.   It will serve you well in the days to come.  Please stay in touch and let us know how your treatment goes.

    Warm, warm wishes for your future!    Kathy

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Sep 20, 2011

    Thanks for these series of posts. I find them very helpful. I was contacted by a headhunter for a great job-- but I am near treatment levels with a CLL. My treatments might require that I take some time off but my long term prognosis is excellent even if my CLL is not curable yet. Today I got some blood results back that indicate treatment is not so
    far off. It's not a top level VP position but is one with substantial
    responsibility at the director level. I am concerned that I won't have
    high energy levels but know that soon after treatment I will have very
    normal energy and stamina levels. What is my obligation to my potential
    employer? What advice would you offer?

    I am very excited about the position and I think that I am a great fit
    with a nearly perfect resume for it! I think I would enjoy this job very much but it's a job track that I decided a
    while ago not to actively pursue, but my long terms goals (which are
    less corporate) are still a year or two off.  The job comes at a time when the income and benefit packages could really help me and my family manage my illness without so much financial stress.  Even so, it is a detour from my longer term career goals. Any suggestions on how to think about it?

  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Sep 21, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    What a joyful event in the midst of all that uncertainty.  Congratulations on the opportunity.  Contact with a headhunter who recognizes your strengths and the fit for a position is a great first step to landing the job.   I can see why you are full of questions... and want to make sure you make the right move. 

    Although it may seem counter-intuitive, you really owe nothing to anyone except to  yourself and your family at this stage in the process. That, and doing the best job you can to articulate your strengths in discussions. The recruiter will present you and your credentials to the employer if, after speaking with you, he or she feels that you may have the potential to land the role, and, yes, bring a commission to his/her firm.

    If, once reviewing all the candidates, the employer requests further interviews, then you can use those conversations to learn more about the job, the company culture, the demands of the role and the expectations that would be upon you if you were selected for the position. Armed with that information, you'll be much better equipped to answer those many questions rolling around in your head right now.

    Its important to take this process one step at a time.  Keep saying yes to the chance to discuss the role, to visit the company, to meet the people.   I usually advise candidates not to give a final "yes" or  "no" until they actually are looking at an offer, have weighed the pros and cons, negotiated for everything that they want, and then make their decision.  Up until that point, it is all a research project, and an investment in your future.  You won't know what is possible until you walk through the process... and the hiring process can take two to three months from initial approach through final offer... so you will have plenty of time to assess your health, your needs and the situation. Go for it!  Explore, and trust that when the time comes for a final decision, you'll know what to do. 

    Update us as this unfolds.  

    Warm regards,  Kathy Flora, Career Coach.

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Oct 8, 2011

    Hi Everyone,

    I am lucky to find this thread after a long searching through the internet world. I have a similar situation as Debbie here. I am 24 years old and got offered a Graduate Position in a big 4 Audit firm after a lot of hard work and signed the contract in June '11 and the job is meant to start in March 2012 which i'm really looking forward to.

    In Aug, two months ago, I got diagnosed with high grade Osteosarcoma on my left proximal humerous with lung mets  and had three cycle of chemotherapy and it did not have much impact on the tumor, so I am starting next cycle next week.

    My dilema is whether to ring the new employer and make them aware of what I am going through or keep silent. I was told that I would be called in participate in their social functions to get to know the team members and company better. Any suggestion would be much apprecited!

    kindess regards,Pujan

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Oct 8, 2011

    Hi everyone,

    I am just writing to give an update. I went on the job interview and am really impressed by the opportunity. They've called me back for a follow-up interview and I am staying open and continuing to think about the impacts of a career change or 2-3 year pre-treatment hiatus to my old profession at this moment. My long term goals are still in line with my current position, but right now my current professional environment is unfriendly to doing things a little different to manage the stress and fatigue that comes with my Leukemia.  "Reasonable" shifts seem unreasonable to some of my colleagues and bosses, even when sometimes some of the simpler shifts that I request like modest scheduling (mostly) are customary for others who don't have a medical condition that necessitates it.

    I am trying to suss out the environment at this new place-- it's a little daunting to think that I have to figure out how to navigate this again in a different environment. My negative experience at my current work makes me wary of sharing
    information about myself and cautious about how to ask for things that I
    might need. Has anyone had a similar experience? What advice would you give your old, newly diagnosed self about work and requesting any adjustments?

    And you were right.... they are moving slow enough to let me assess the health issues. I was able to speak with my doctor about the impact on my health, and one of my 'energy' numbers is up since I eliminated one source of stress :) He estimates I have a bit more time before I need to worry about treatment, and says that I should take the job without worrying too much about this, even if it is energy demanding or requires stamina. Treatment, he also says, can be effectively managed to let me know through some of it and only need to take 4-6 weeks off-- time that I will also be able to work some of the time from home. I'm really glad I was able to talk to him as this was all happening because it helped to hear more from him what my treatment is likely to look like and what kinds of every day things will need to change and for how long. 

    So if they make me an offer, what is a good idea to negotiate? What have others negotiated to help manage treatment fatigue (that is my worst symptom that comes and goes with my levels, diet, stress, etc)?  Should I ask for more vacation and less pay-- is that reasonable? Any other ideas for reducing fatigue or stress in a professional office-work environment?



  • Kathy Flora

    Kathy Flora on Oct 11, 2011

    Career Coach Comment:

    Mari, So glad you have been able to gather so much information as well as meet some of the individuals with whom you will work.  

    I thought that the most significant development in what you have conveyed is the doctor's suggestion that it may be a while before you have to experience any treatment regime.   That is an indicator that you may not  have to negotiate any unique accommodations right away.  In fact, from what you have said, he may think that you may be able to maintain the pace of the job without accommodations at least initially, and maybe throughout the course of treatment.

    That said, if you are offered the job, consider going into the negotiations as you would any job negotiation before your treatment diagnosis.  Start by thinking of all that you would ordinarily ask for to be compensated fairly for your work, within the market and field.   Then, make a list of other elements of the compensation and benefits package that are customary for the role and level.  

     I usually recommend folks start with salary first.  I would not recommend trading salary for vacation.  Instead, consider that your work will be fairly compensated, and if you need reasonable accommodations at some point, they may be covered by your sick leave or vacation,  an employee leave bank, or a flex schedule that you may wish to negotiate when you need it.

    In other words, your doctor seems to be telling you to go ahead and land the job.  He'll help you work through all the eventualities you may need to navigate through, as they arise.

    Everyone is different and each person's course of illness and recovery is different.   Trust yourself in this process... and if it seems right to you, stand for your self in these negotiations as the fully capable professional that you are... cancer notwithstanding.

    All the best,

    Kathy, Career Coach

  • Melissa K.

    Melissa K. on Mar 26, 2014

    Thank you for all of this information! I know these post are a few years old, but I am in the same situation right now as Debbie. My only issue is that my new opportunity won't offer healthcare benefits until 3 months after being hired. I will be getting as much information from my doctor this week to insure I make the best choice as well. Again thank you so much!

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