Cancer and Employment

How has cancer affected your employment -- and what personal and professional decisions did you make about working?

What issues have you encountered in returning to work or finding work following cancer treatment?

Did you change careers or jobs after being diagnosed with cancer? If so, why?

How has cancer affected your employment - and what personal and professional decisions did you make about working?

I was unable to continue working as a paralegal due to time constraints involved in the job itself.  My boss and I decided that application for Social Security Disability would be best.

I found that "chemo brain" is a reality. I ended up retiring from my job of 23 years after my stem cell transplant. It was difficult to remember things I needed to remember. Prior to my chemo and subsequent transplant, multi-tasking was second nature. Now, not so much. It has improved but not to the level it was before.

I am retired, but work a seasonal job part-time. I have Multiple Myeloma, taking a daily dose of chemo in pill form but it causes exhaustion.  I found it very rewarding to be able to get out and work proficiently, however when I got home I was too tired to do anything but go to bed.

Cancer has shortchanged me for the past six years with all of its recurring side effects, that have impeded so many things in my life, such as swallowing problems, almost constant neck pain, mobility (dizziness) issues, osteoradionarcrosis, etc., etc. It really never ends.

I returned to work for about a year and a half before deciding to retire early.  If I had not gotten cancer I would have worked until at least 65, if not 67, so I would have had 30 years in.  It was very important for me to return to work, as my co-workers were wonderful supports, and kept reminding me that they missed me and needed me.  One of the ways I got thru treatment was reminding myself that I had important work yet to do and there were people waiting for me to return.  That being said, there are a lot of significant problems with work and cancer treatment.
1) Cancer is catastrophic illness.  Treatment is prolonged, usually over 6 months and can be up to a year or more.  Not everyone can work during treatment.  I could not work during chemo because my workplace was very dangerous for immunosuppressed people (chronically ill infants and toddlers).  Some people are too sick to work during chemo.  
2) Chemo lasts longer than the Family Medical Leave Act (only 12 weeks), so, if you are off more than 12 weeks due to chemo, you can be fired.  Even if you have more than 12 weeks of sick and vacation time saved up (for those fortunate enough to get it), cancer treatment takes so long you will eventually run out.  Then all you can do is hope your employer will give you a leave of absence.
3) When you return to work, you have the problem of having no accrued paid time off.  You still have doctor appointments, PT, lab visits, OT (for lymphedema) etc. and have to either make them all outside of work hours (good luck with that) or beg your employer to let you be off without pay.  My employer did not allow leave without pay, so I was really in a fix.  I had to schedule radiation early in the morning and then speed to make it to work on time.
4) Also, since you have used up all you paid time off, you cannot go on vacation for a long time.  I have Triple Neg breast cancer, and I knew it reoccurs more often and is more aggressive when it does.  I did not want to wait to see a few things I had wanted to see all my life, but, if I had remained on the job, I would have had no choice but to wait.  Also, how healthy is it to not have any time off for 2 or more years?"

I still have the same job I had when I got cancer.  My work was very supportive of the time off I had to take to recover, however I was not out very long (4 days).  Personally I think that having cancer has limited the job choices for me.  I have good insurance and fear leaving my job for another due to my concern about insurance.  I also do not want to advance as I fear that additional accountability at work could result in more stress and possibly cause issues due to my health.  I don't think that I am being limited by my employer. I really think it is internal and is based in fear.

After three months on my leukemia drug, I found that I was physically and mentally exhausted.  Last month, I started to work half days and that did not help at all.  I feel as though I am in a constant fog and easily fatigued.  I wake up tired.  Yesterday, I left work on a medical leave and I am not sure I will return."

I was not working at the time of diagnosis. I did have to make that decision on continuing to seek employment or not. My spouse & I chose to wait on seeking employment until after treatment.

Cancer has not affected my employment.  I don't think I'm as dedicated as I once was however.  I feel there are more important things in life that being gone from home for 12-13 hours a day.

I was able to work during my entire course of treatment - biopsy & lumpectomy surgeries, chemo, and radiation.  My employer was flexible, but one of the supervisors made an unreasonable request that I, "try to minimize the effect of your medical treatment because we rely on you and need you here.  As much as possible, please schedule your appointments evenings and weekends."  As if!  
My oncology care providers did not offer such options in my community.  It was very stressful to have that kind of mixed message delivered to me. Subsequently, that manager left the company."

I was working 3 days/ week before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was stage 1V out of the gate and was experiencing severe back pain from mets to the pelvis and decided to cut back to working 2 days/ wk. I didn't want cancer to take away anything else and I still wanted to have the work experience/ socialization and a paycheck!

I work in an educational setting where I was still on probation and working towards my tenure. When I was diagnosed, I was afraid I would lose my job because of the time I had to take off. I had no sick days or personal days and if I had any it was not much: less than 10 days. I was diagnosed in August and my first day back was September 4th. I spoke to my administrators who were all very supportive and I decided not to return to work on September 4th.  Instead I had surgery that day. I took 12 weeks off which is what was recommended, and although I felt great at 10 weeks I chose not to return until 12 weeks because I wanted to take care of myself. I wanted to be as healthy as possible for me, my family, and my students. I was 37 years old with a 1 year old at home, so my priority was beating the cancer and living for my son. Work came after my family and I and my administrators supported that decision.

I lost a year of teaching and retirement benefits as I had to take off for treatment as I was given only 6 months and I wanted to fight as hard as I could. This was 12 years ago.

I gave riding lessons for over 30 years. I had bone marrow transplant last spring and was in remission for 5 months. When the cancer returned I just could not take care of the horses anymore and sold them all. I am 60 years old and have had multiple myeloma for 3 years. I am currently trying to figure out how I can be productive and how I can make money. I was denied S.S. disability because I did not have enough points. Can you please publish the stats on the different types of cancer? Daily people are made aware of breast cancer, and often other types of organ cancer. You rarely hear much about blood cancers, and you never hear anything about M.M. Is it because the vast majority of the cancer is breast cancer? M.M. is said to be the most aggressive, most destructive, and most painful type of cancer. A little more exposure would be nice. Thanks for listening. P.S.: I'm really trying not to ""rant"" but the people with many organ cancers need to be reminded that after treatment many of them are in remission for the rest of their lives and can return to their normal life. Multiple Myeloma is a death sentence."

I continue to find dissatisfaction in working for a "purpose" and not a paycheck....Feeling value.

Since I had a lumpectomy and then external radiation, I worked through both, only taking a week off after the surgery.

I have not been employed since I was diagnosed.  I am currently looking for work.  It was much easier for me to stay home after my treatment.

Everyone knew I had been out & had Cancer. They were all very pleasant & wished me well upon my return. First coming back I wanted to dive full time into it. But my boss talked me into coming back a few days a week for the beginning. Then I needed to work more to keep my full time status.

My employer was totally supportive of my treatment routine.  I had chemo every other week for 6 months so I was off 2 1/2 days every time.  Then, I had radiation every day for 7 weeks.  I able to schedule it for the end of the day and the treatment center was close by.  I had to use 15 minutes every day.

I am one of the fortunate teachers that have the benefit of sick days. Unfortunately my days are used up and now I will be on unpaid leave. This is my second round of breast cancer after 22 years a survivor. The administration has been supportive and I have learned about the FMLA. I will return to work and finish out the current school year.

I was an In-home Senior Care Provider. Before my initial recovery time from a Bilateral Nipple-sparing Mastectomy with Immediate Reconstruction was up, I developed complications and had to have another surgery.  So my recovery time was extended. I was therefore unable to return to work for some time, especially because I was not able to lift or scrub, etc. Another factor was applying for office jobs (my previous career). I didn't ever know when the next surgery would because the surgeon was rather vague.  So do you get a job and then two weeks later you have to tell your employer that you have to take eight weeks off?? Another factor: the hospital where the oncologist, the gynecologist, the plastic surgeon, the ophthalmologist, the endocrinologist, and the pulmonologist are is four-hour drive away because we live in the country. You are gone entire days at a time - also not conducive to good relations with an employer. Furthermore, the appointments can't be scheduled on the same day, because of the VA's clinic rotation. For a long time, I was going up every week, and every other week.  I have also had to have two more breast surgeries since the initial two. Currently I will have another one in two weeks, and another one pending after that. So we decided that I should not work for the time being.

I am a substitute teacher. I worked regularly in one school district when I started Chemo for ovarian cancer my medical oncologist advised me not to work with all the kids due to exposure to colds, etc. A lot of my work was with elementary and they hug touch hands, etc. Following Chemo I moved and now I am doing two jobs: one in a dog shelter and one in a museum. I may return to substitute teaching in the fall.

I work in a public school system and had thankfully accumulated sick days. The sick days that I had saved have been a comfort to know that I have that cushion if I need them. I am a year into surviving cancer and have only taken one sick day that I used strictly for staying in bed and being sick. The only other sick days I have taken have been for bone marrow biopsies and out of town doctors’ visits. Some of my co-workers know I have cancer and some may not. I look healthy so for the most part my co-workers do not understand how I feel and are neither supportive nor non supportive. Perhaps indifferent is the word to best describe many of my co-workers.

I reduced the number of hours per week for work.  By the end of a nine hour day I began to have diminished breathing because of the lung cancer and COPD.

I am an attorney. I had the opportunity to work a reduced schedule and work from home. Toward the end of chemo and during recovery from surgery, I did not get much accomplished. As a partner in my law firm, I renegotiated my compensation for a 12 month period that reflected more on how much revenue I brought into the firm.

I was "forced" to leave a position because my boss felt I shouldn't have 24 hour accountability because it was too stressful.

"I was fortunate that my treatment and cancer did not really affect my employment.  I was working for hospice at the time and they were very understanding.  I did not have chemo.  I had 6 weeks of radiation txs after a lumpectomy.  I arranged my schedule so that I did my treatments before work.  I was lucky that the rad site was only about a 10 min drive from work.  I did fine until the 2nd to the last week and the fatigue got the better of me.  I had to take a few days off.  I had a right sided mastectomy on the 2nd go around.  I was able to take 6 weeks paid off of work with an accumulation of sick time and short term disability.  I had a longer reconstruction phase as I had an implant which required MD visits every 2 weeks for about 4 months post-surgery.  And this MD was an hour away.  I still had sick time built up to make that trek and still get paid.  I REALLY understand how fortunate I was to have had the sick time built up and to also have had a VERY supportive employer.

I can no longer find full time employment. My medical history for the past 6 years has made it impossible to find an employer that will take the risk of hiring me full time. It has put an extreme strain on my household because now I'm working 3 part time jobs and looking for a 4th. I am not home to make sure my son is doing what he is supposed to be doing because I have to work or I will lose our house.

The first time I had cancer the chemotherapy left me with enough cognitive impairment I could no longer function at the level required by my career.  I had to find a new field.
The second time I had cancer my voice was damaged.  I could no longer do public speaking.
I have not found a new career yet.

I decided, on the day after I was told I probably had cancer that I did not want to work - preferably at all, but certainly not at what I'd been doing for the last 20 years.

I am a public safety dispatcher and commuted 53 miles to work. Between surgery and chemo, I didn't feel I would be able to handle the workload and commute, so I chose not to work during my treatment. While off work, I did as much research as possible, and found certain aspects of my job put me at higher risk for developing cancer (not enough sleep, graveyard shifts, high fat diet to name a few).  I committed to change when I returned to work, but found myself overworked and overtired soon after returning. I also suffered joint and muscle aches, as well as residual neuropathy. Changing careers in midlife is not easy, and the economy had tanked while I was off also. I decided I needed to at least try to move to a smaller agency.

I did not let my cancer treatment affect my employment at all.  Chemo treatments were scheduled
either in the morning - in which case I just came to work a little late - or in the evening - in which case
I left a little earlier. I did not miss one day of work due to the chemo treatment. Only my boss and 2 other people knew about my cancer treatment and I had asked them NOT to tell anybody else in the company.  I bought a wig before all my hair fell out and could get one that was almost the color of my hair, the same length of hair I usually had. After the chemo treatment ended and my hair grew slowly in all grey, I took the wig off one lunch and walking through the office some people didn't recognize me at first.

I originally took medical leave under FMLA which is 12 weeks unpaid but had short term disability so did have income and insurance.  However after surgery and cancer had  spread to the lymph node I had to start chemo treatments which I had problems with and Dr advised I stay off work until I completed them to see if I could tolerate full regimen as mine was an aggressive breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma, my left kidney and adrenal gland were removed. The tumor was 15cm and weighed 3+ lbs. I had been using tree marking paint every day in my job, the paint said "causes cancer in CA". After recovering from my surgery, I met with my superiors and said I did not want to use the paint anymore, but I could do another task on the crew. My health was the most important thing! I am out with the crew that is still using that paint, but I have a task that does not require me to use the paint.

I was unable to continue my employment due to side effects of medications including fatigue, chemo brain, and chronic back pain due to surgery to remove plasmacytoma.

I have multiple myeloma and when my previous employer found out I would have to start treatment again, he started really picking on me.  I could do very little that was right.  I started treatment on September 6, 2013.  On September 10 he blew up at me twice before 11 AM.  The final straw was when he told me "chemo is not a good enough excuse for poor work, you need to shape up or get out".  I think he saw how sick I was Monday and he decided he didn't want to deal with it -- he wanted me gone.  This was a truck repair shop and I had worked there for 8 years.  What was worse -- he lied about what happened and I couldn't get my unemployment.  I had 2 months of no income.  I found a 32 hour a week job with a GMC dealership in the parts department for more money per hour, but 3 times the drive distance.  I work with very understanding and supportive people so the trade-offs are worth it.  Today, April 30, they ask me to work full time starting next week.  Things are looking up!

I am a self-employed acupuncturist.  I took 3 weeks off for my surgery.  I worked part-time through my low-dose weekly chemotherapy (4 months), but I did not take on any new clients during that time, so that by the time I was finishing chemo I was working only about 10 hours a week.  I chose not to tell my clients about my surgery, but I did tell them about my chemo because I lost my hair and didn't want to wear a wig.

It made me closer to my patients. I was a sponge of information for them.

Due to side effects of my cancer treatments I was not able to return to working. I now have short term memory lost and cannot retain new information. Chemo brain has no gone away for me.

Due to fatigue I had to stop a day from my work hours, 40 to 32 hours.

I was away from my job from the day before my mastectomy until 21 months later. I am a pharmacist who regularly works up to 12 hour shifts and the demands of the job were not compatible with the rigors of hi dose chemotherapy,  followed unexpectedly by 6weeks of radiation. This was followed by continuing the reconstruction begun at the time of mastectomy. This entailed many problems. The initial swap in of the silicone implant proved to be intolerable for my system and was replaced some months later after ongoing infection, including cellulitis. Again it was a problem and had to be removed several months later so I could heal. This left my left chest looking like a cave-in. The final decision was tram flap surgery. First surgery preparing lower abdomen for the procedure happened 2 weeks before the main surgery. This was accompanied by the complication of a pulmonary embolism and short term kidney failure. I finally got back to work and started full time after 3weeks of half time; it was grueling but I was determined. I still may do nipple reconstruction and lipo to finish the abdominal site but previous recovery was so difficult that it is easy to put off. I am happy to be back at work (most days!). I am very fortunate my employer supported me thru this journey.

I was able to go do my radiation treatments before work & worked through my entire treatments. Didn't miss a day!

I am a high school English teacher.  I was fortunate that I had cancer during the time I had left education and worked in the business world. Two weeks after a mastectomy, I asked if I could go in for work for an hour.  It took two hours round trip, plus an hour of work - and that three hrs was a lot for me.  The next week I increased to 2 hrs. at work, then each week added another hour, and bought work home.  If I had been in the classroom at that time, I could not have gone into school for an hour whenever I felt.

I did not have to worry too much about my employment, because I was already unemployed. I was working at a church and I had lost my dad and my father-in-law in the same year. I quit before I was to be fired because I had taken too much time away to be with my mother and watch my dad be on a ventilator for about 3 months. My mom just could not let go and I would be the same way if I was about to let my husband go. After crying for months, my husband said enough. I was diagnosed in March, 2002 on my birthday with CML.

I was on a different oral medication when I first started my meds for CML. It gave me bad rashes, etc., and ended up in the hospital for 4 days because of allergic reaction to meds at the time. I had to take off 2 and a half months last year, for swelling of eyes and rashes to go away. I changed meds after that, and I have been there part time ever since being employed there over a year ago.

When I was diagnosed with Brain Cancer, and 6 months of chemotherapy I had great health insurance and I used sick leave.  But after 6 months of chemo and having a body destroyed :(  My doctor stated I would be a danger to the patients I was assigned to care for (Nursing Specialist).  She also said I was a danger to myself.  I had a short term disability insurance policy and I applied to social security as I was deemed "disabled".  I missed 10 months of work and after a clear MRI and resumed full-time duty.  My boss "held" my job for 10 months (assigning my duties to 2-3 other staff).  I have now been back to work for 54 months and I have not missed one day :) !!  I am in remission for 60 months now. :) :) :)

I am very fortunate to have been able to schedule my many scans, surgeries and radiation treatments around my "seasonal" work schedule.  My schedule is pretty intense between April and December, so January and February have been my treatment months for the last few years.  That sounds odd, but I have pushed the envelope a bit, knowing that my particular form of breast cancer has not been particularly aggressive, though it is always present.  I take more sick and personal leave time than I used to.  And I know that if by some miracle I could afford to retire early, I would.  But with the fabulous health coverage I have through work, I cannot afford to stop working now.  I am a fortunate person indeed to have the down time to recover fully and the excellent health coverage.

I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January of 2010.  At that time I was working as a full-time HR professional.  I underwent about 5 months of chemo, and worked very sporadically during that time.  Once my Family Medical Leave ran out, I was told I needed to come back to work full-time or lose my job.  As I was preparing for a stem cell transplant, and knew I could not work full-time, I resigned my position.  I had the stem cell transplant in August of 2010, and returned to work on a temporary part-time basis in late December of 2010.  I ended up leaving my employment in July of 2012 to focus on my health.  I had worked for my employer for 17 years, and even though I lost my full-time job, they kept me on long enough that I was eligible for retiree health benefits, which have been invaluable to me.  I cannot fault them for asking me to resign if I couldn't work full-time, as it's a very busy office and very difficult for people to take on additional tasks when people are not in their jobs.

I have retired due to my cancer. I met all the guidelines for qualifying as disabled by the Social Security Administration, my employer and my employer's LT disability insurance company. I currently receive a monthly benefit from SS and the LT disability company. I felt that following my allogeneic stem cell transplant (stem cells I received from my sister) that the best recovery option for me was to not work anymore. I had the transplant at the age of 56.

I own my own business. It is a very physical job and I employ others. If I don't work, I don't make money nor do my employees. Although recommended to me, I opted out of chemo as I felt it would totally interfere with my ability to work and the benefit to me was not that good. I worked all throughout surgery and radiation. It has been challenging and I have developed some physical issues because of it. I wish there was more support for these types of issues.

I chose to continue working while getting chemo and radiation, but was able to do it part time -- had a supportive employer at the time.  I felt I was able to balance my body's need to rest with my mind's need to keep up with ""normal"".  I had great help. I was laid off 2 years later from this job, and even appreciated the downtime of unemployment as a healing opportunity.

I had to continue working all through my cancer journey.  I had no family, and unless I went to work, I had no income.  During chemo and radiation, I suffered from numerous side-effects, but I'll focus on fatigue.  It took me over two hours to get ready for work each day.  I would take a shower, and then lie down for 15 min.  I would make my way to the kitchen, fix and eat breakfast, and then I'd have to lie down for 20 min.  I spent a lot of time putting on make-up; especially eyebrows, and then I would have to rest again; then after getting dressed, I would need to rest again.  I was worn out before I even left the house. Eventually, I had to reduce my hours in work by half because of weakness and fatigue.

When I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma I had to go on long term disability for about three months and then I worked a little on a part-time basis for two months.  After that I had a stem cell transplant and was unable to work.  After another two months my employer asked if I intended to continue on disability with the possibility of returning to work at some future date or simply retire.  I decided to take early retirement.

I worked as an investment research company from my home.  The job required constant interviewing of people from large corporations to med. doctors.  Writing reports, developing graphs, etc.  My cancer did not affect my employment.  I wished to and needed to continue working.  I was able to do this because the company allowed me to choose to work or not.  It also allowed me to let them know when and if there would be a period of time during chemotherapy that I could not work or take on as much work as before. The "chemo brain" that I experienced made work very difficult at times and I feel that some of my work was not as good as it could have been.  My immediate boss, a woman, was very understanding.  The head of the department, a woman, had experienced a bone marrow transplant for breast cancer many years earlier. I was an independent contractor which was helpful.

I retired from my professional position as professor and administrator in a community college in 1995.  I ran for office and was elected president of the emeritus chapter of the faculty union in 1996.  In 2002 diagnosed with breast cancer.  Not a problem; continued as president of retiree chapter of union.   However, in 2009 diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to bones and lung.  I chose to not inform staff or members.  The reason was that I had NO side effects from treatments.  In addition, I did not want staff and members to feel sorry for me or feel that I could not do my job. My responsibilities include supporting retirees with various issues they may have and assuring that health benefits are available.  Many committee meetings, one-on-one, sending e-mails and writing e-newsletters and print newsletters.  I had several treatments which were oral. When oral treatments no longer worked necessary to start another drug and I had hair loss.  At that time, I informed staff and union professionals of my cancer.  Decided to retire as chapter president this year after 18 years but will continue union activities. I am 82.

I worked as an adjunct nursing prof through treatment but recently had to give up 2/3 of my part time work hours due to severe chemo neuropathy and a department (of health care providers!) unwilling to compromise. I am devastated, too old to find another job in my field, losing income and benefits.

I work at a law firm and due to the disability benefits and a group insurance cancer plan I did not suffer financially. My firm hired a retired employee to do my work while I was out. I stayed out 6 months. I returned to work full time which was probably a mistake. It is exhausting. I also have presidential neuropathy which makes commuting difficult. My firm is very flexible and I am able to adjust my hours when I need to and stay on full time status.

I had a very high stress management job and my cancer and the chemo caused me to be exhausted, irritable, not able to concentrate plus required me to be absent for a few days on a regular basis. My supervisor (female) did not provide any reduced work load (the opposite actually) and forbade me from discussing my health issues with others around me. I am a male and unfortunately I thought I could handle the stress and waited far too long to seek out help from social services and my family doctor. If my boss had of assisted me I could have remained at work. I returned to work and eventually quit. Their loss!

I worked in a limited way during treatment. I would take the chemo week off and then work the next 2 weeks for all 6 rounds. I worked most of the time during radiation, except the last 2 weeks when I was too fatigued and burned/in pain. After treatment I thought I would be up and running like normal in a few weeks. However that has not been the case. I have been working 1/2 for the past 3 years. Luckily I have a private disability policy that allows me to work part time and still receive benefits. We would have been financially ruined if this had not been the case.

I have a fulltime job and a part-time job.  I decided to put in a leave of absence for the part-time job as it required a lot of standing and holding things.  I did not qualify for short term disability or family leave.
I did not get paid anything while I was on leave.  When I returned a month later than expected with a note from the DR. spelling out why, I was given an ultimatum when I did return. Do 20 hours a week or go White card. I chose white card because 20 hours was too much.  I lost 10% of my pay and lost all my benefits. Then it took them another month to reinstate me in the computer system.  They gave me a hard time about not returning in 6mos.but what the hay, they weren't paying anything.  For a company that makes its employees collect money for charities as party of their retail job, you would think they would have some compassion for their own employees that are going through horrible health problems. Well I didn't see it. The full-time job, I lucked out that my CEO had been a director at prominent cancer research organization. He was very understanding and bent the rules a lot and made sure my job was not at risk.  I worked full days there and could lie down and rest if I really got tired.  The hardest part was the people I worked with. They swoop in all friendly when they weren’t before.  One guy said very humiliating things about my baldness etc. which wound up landing a sexual harassment investigation, where I was the plaintiff.  The whole company had to be spoken to by a sexual harassment lawyer.  There are no winners and I got so much retribution by my team.  It was one of the most devastating times of my life emotionally.

I was fortunate that my treatment could be arranged after work. I was able to have surgery during the Christmas break and chemo and radiation after work. Treatment did not interfere with my job. I was afraid to tell most people that I. Was receiving treatment though because I was afraid they would think I could not do my job.

To date it has not had any effect on my employment as I was retired from any paying jobs.  However, I was and still am involved in several volunteer political and non-profit board positions, and it has not affected my ability to perform those at a high level.

I refuse to let cancer limit or define me. I was diagnosed Stage 4 advanced metastatic in 2010 and have worked full time since my diagnosis, participate in my professional associations and am actively involved in my Parish. My first treatment was 6 cycles of chemo, followed by other drug treatment which kept me stable for 3 years and now after a little progression I am back on chemo. I fully intend to keep working full-time and participate in my professional and Parish activities. I think my activity has had a very positive effect on managing my cancer.

I have Multiple Myeloma.  At first, before a stem cell transplant, I thought I'd be able to return to work as a teacher. Soon it became apparent, however, that the pain associated with my cancer and the extreme lethargy found me unable to return to work.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, after the mastectomy I chose to leave my job in the education field.  I had a boss who was not supportive of my needing to not run up and down the stairs all day long, and to kind of take it easy from the stressors of my job until I recovered from the double surgery (mastectomy and reconstruction).  I continued to work for 6 months after the surgery, and then I chose to leave my position.  I worked in a school in an administrative position and I had enough time in to leave with benefits like a pension.

My job was terminated.

Prior to my diagnosis, I worked a full time position as a Human Resources Director.  During the year of my treatment, I chose not to work.  I returned to work on a part time basis, and now work 2 days per week as a consultant at this employer.

Although I am retired now, I was blessed to have an employer and fellow employees who were supportive of me while undergoing treatment.  I was diagnosed in 1996 and had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.  I was able to continue working throughout that experience, and was able to schedule my surgery/treatments during early morning or late afternoon hours so that my absence from the office was kept to a minimum.  When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2008, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and took two weeks off from work to recuperate.  I returned to work after that surgery and continued working while undergoing infusions to treat the metastasis until I retired at the end of 2012.  By being able to maintain my employment, I was able to focus on what was important to me and not dwell on the cancer diagnosis.  My job provided excellent health insurance which in turn reduced any stress about the financial impact of cancer.  My employer and fellow employees helped me to continue working without making me feel guilty about my absences due to treatment.  I continued to have a purpose in life even while dealing with a potential death sentence.  I am grateful for the Cancer Experience Registry and the way it helps all of us as we deal with the reality of cancer.

I was working full-time in an office when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I began treatment and continued working until my immune system was completed depleted so my doctor put me on leave of absence.  I completed treatment, had two surgeries and six weeks of radiation for five days per week and returned to work after taking just under five months off.  Two weeks prior to my return I was demoted because my employer said they couldn't wait any longer to replace me in my position.  Upon return to work I was told that I shouldn't expect any special treatment because my supervisor knew of other women who had gone through breast cancer and never even took a leave of absence. I learned my new position and did my best to focus on the positive aspects of the job.  However, when given the opportunity, I changed employers and now work for a company that is not only aware of my medical history and provides continued support, but fully embraces everyone who encounters a serious illness and works with people to help balance life and work.

I was laid off in the middle of my chemo for inflammatory breast cancer.  I grieved that decision and was returned to service.  But I was not returned to my old job.  I was returned to a new position.

I chose to work while I had chemo. I actually brought my laptop with me and did some work in the chair.  It wasn't easy because it makes you a little sleepy!  Work gave me a way to keep my mind off of things.  It was hard in the beginning, especially when my hair started to fall out on my desk!  I was more concerned about how I looked to others.  I donned a wig and no one knew except a few close friends that I had gone bald. I did get chemo brain and found that writing things down helped.  I was exhausted.  When chemo was finished, I had a double mastectomy with tram flap reconstruction.  That was hard.  I was out of work for 8 weeks recovering.  When I went back to work, after the 8 weeks it was still difficult to walk and I did not have enough skin grow back to where I couldn't stand up straight yet.  I also started radiation for 6 weeks and did that before work.    All of this had its challenges.  I was grateful for an understanding company.  The road was hard, but worth it in the end.  I am now 5 years cancer free.


What issues have you encountered either in returning to work or finding work following cancer treatment?

Difficult to find working situation that would allow for my "good and bad days".

The major issue was memory related.

I missed a year of work, but was well received by my managers and coworkers

If you have a busy stressful workplace, you worry about the effect stress has on your body, i.e., will it weaken me and allow the cancer to come back?  I also found it hard to find appropriate clothing.  I had a modified radical mastectomy, and have a large crater in my chest.  So many clothes today are cut low in the front and they exposed the crater. We need clothing designed for mastectomy patients!  
My workplace gave me a leave of absence and saved my position for me, but then I felt guilty making everyone else work extra hard to cover for me.  You feel like you are a burden and a loser.

My employer and my work associates do not seem to treat me differently and in fact many of them do not know that I have CML.  I usually do not discuss it because I really do not want to be treated differently. I don't want people to feel sorry for me and I do not want for there to be a perception that I am treated better or that I have a lower expectation due to my illness.  Again this is internal concerns and not something that I have noticed externally.

As I went on a number of interviews, I felt reluctant to open up about my diagnosis as follow up appointments would require me to take time off work immediately. I feel this kept me from obtaining employment at a few of these places.  Although I strongly believe God put me where He wants me to be & everything happens for a reason.

There is a need to carry boxes.  I'm in materials management and sometimes I probably lift more weight than I should and I'm sore for days in my arm and breast.

I am more tired now, but I don't express that to my co-workers or my boss. I don't want them to know.

I am the school social worker so the most difficult situations have been when students tell me their moms have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The students are scared and feel alone, I help the students work through their worries and if I need to use my own story to help them I do but I try not to. Because of my "young" age and when I was diagnosed, the administrators have asked me to become the hidden support to teachers that are being diagnosed and just as young as or younger than me. It is difficult because my diagnosis is only 1 1/2 years old and although I have beat it and now I am pregnant, I am afraid to say the wrong thing to my colleagues who are being diagnosed as well. But the worst is I feel helpless, I can only support them but not fight the battle for them. There is nothing to be angry at, there is nothing for me to punch or beat... There is only cancer and I can't see it, touch it or fight it. It's such a helpless feeling.

I have lymphedema in my arm and it affects me daily as I work with young children as I have to be careful about heavy lifting -- some people don't understand the limitations I have.  My biggest problem is finding professional clothes that will fit my arm but not make me look old or larger than I am

No issues. My boss and fellow workers have been so caring and understanding during this time.

I think the fact that I’ve been out of work so long is causing prospective employers to not call me.

Because of my Chemo Fog, I was very forgetful of the extensions of my phone system where I worked as a switchboard operator for 14 yrs.  I found myself looking up the extensions & writing down everything instead of leaving it to memory. I even saw a neurologist & got took tests to test my memory since I knew there was a problem with it & what was coming out of my mouth.

I am concerned that I will physically tire before the end of my work day. I also am concerned about my clothing and how to disguise my second mastectomy.

There is very little work in our little county. Having to be gone so much just means you will get laid off.

I encountered no problems. Both places where I work do not know about my cancer.  I did not lose all my hair -- it only thinned and since it was ovarian cancer my surgeries are not obvious "on the outside."

In the beginning I went to the doctor at least once and sometimes twice a week. I work through my lunch hour to bank time to use for doctor appointments. I am blessed that my treatment is a medication I take twice daily. The one side effect that I deal with in tiredness and low energy. I take a sublingual B-12 to help counteract the tiredness. At times a short nap would be great!

I was not able to walk any appreciable distance.  I found a parking area close to the work location in the complex.

Finding the right balance between work and things that are more important after treatment -- things like reaching out to women going through treatment, sending cards and being more active in church and breast cancer organizations.

Even returning part-time jeopardizes disability benefits. The "system" does not support attempts to return part-time.

I can no longer find full-time employment. My medical history for the past 6 years has made it impossible to find an employer that will take the risk of hiring me full time. It has put an extreme strain on my household because now I'm working 3 part time jobs and looking for a 4th. I am not home to make sure my son is doing what he is supposed to be doing because I have to work or I will lose our house.

I could not do the jobs I had previous to treatment.

My concentration and energy levels would not have allowed me to return to my previous employment.

I went back to work after taking 10 months off, and found my job to be very challenging. I could not remember things that had been committed to memory for 10 years. I could not remember police codes and intersections. I also found I could not work the long hours and overtime without being completely exhausted.  I also found I was typing words and dispatching commands backwards.

No big issues. I wanted to continue my normal life and not let the cancer take over. I did not dwell on it but continued leading the same lifestyle. I absolutely refused to give in to this disease.

When I was not able to return after 12 weeks, I was notified by employer I was terminated.  After treatment which lasted one year I tried to get another job but could not get over the long term side effects and still to this day 8 yrs later suffer from chemo brain, neuropathy, and extreme fatigue and I am on long term disability and social security.

When I returned to work, I knew that I did not want to use the toxic paint and my clinical trial nurse agreed with me. My superiors said I could lose my job if I filed a formal complaint. They still wanted me to use the paint. I said that if it was a choice between my job and my health, I choose my health. They opted to see how things go for 6 months and review my productivity as part of the crew. I had the review, none of my coworkers complained about me not using the paint, and understood my reasons. The work was getting accomplished, and the 1 page report was filled out as everything was fine. Two years later, I am again being questioned, with the following "well you seem to have recovered nicely, I really want you to be out marking (using the paint) you are one of the more efficient markers we have. I told my superior that I could not believe we were having this conversation again, and I was not going to use the paint. I said I felt as if I was being harangued about this issue, at which point he quit talking about it.

I had already trained for a new job several yrs ago before cancer dx. Social work is a very demanding job and requires sharp decision making skills which I don't gave anymore.

My previous boss showed no compassion or tolerance for the fatigue and memory issues caused when my protein levels got out of normal range.  He did not want to have to deal with my side effects problems when I started the medication.  What a difference at my current job.  One medication did not work, so I started a different one in March.  I was much sicker the first month and every one was very concerned and supportive.  My immediate boss is very understanding because he lost a friend to multiple myeloma so he knows about the disease.  In fact I believe I am able to show him a different side of myeloma, because his friend succumbed fairly quickly.  I have to reassure him at times that I am really OK and can do what needs to get done. Insurance was the biggest issue, but LLS is helping me with that.  I was able to get good insurance that will help lower my bills.

I could no longer lift anything over 10 pounds due to lymph nodes in my arm being removed. I had to resign my job.

The biggest issue for me has been trying to build my practice up again -- it's been slow.   It's possible that I lost some clients because I had cancer -- some people I think lose trust in a health care practitioner who has her own health issues.  I will never know for sure. I had some difficulties with concentration, but I'm not sure that ever showed.

None. Now retired as LPN.  Still very active as a Firefighter EMT volunteer.

I am now disabled.

Fatigue one the issue 4 years ago and I still have problems with it.  My main problem, in the first 6 months after Chemo, was not being able to multi-task, do math (add and subtract), remembering names, and I felt like I'd lost at least half the knowledge I need to do my job.  Today I still have lots of problems with names, multi-tasking and memory.  I have lots of problems spelling and now can do math but only adding and subtracting.

I still have neuropathy in the soles of my feet and my fingertips. Very unsettling when that split second delay causes some balance issues. I returned to my same job and take those issues and ongoing fatigue day by day.

Since I was in public relations/communication, I did not find any issues.  If anything, the company was helpful, with the president advocated for me to get the second opinion surgeon to do the surgery.  The first opinion surgeon was going on vacation and would not be back for a month.  I was told by my insurance company that the second opinion surgeon could not do the surgery -- against the rules.  My company president interceded and I got the second opinion surgery five days later.  God bless my former boss!

I could not return to work nor did I feel like finding another job. So I applied and have disability.

My biggest issue, is, that when I had to take a lot of time off at first because of my CML-Chronic Myeloid Leukemia-blood cancer, for absences from last year, they are counting those against me from last year for this year. My female manager said, "an absence is an absence no matter the reason,” and if I get 2 more they will fire me. My manager has not been supportive of me. I work as a cashier at a grocery store. They have not let me train or do anything else but the register for over a year, and my manager refuses to train me for the customer service desk at the job. She said she could not accommodate me on my medication times when I need to take it, because when it comes to giving breaks in a busy grocery store, she gives them to everyone when she can. I am 52, and they don't give me even 20 hours a week work. My last work review they gave me was negative, and I got no raise, with them telling me I need to work on my absences.

I used to like my job - but now I LOVE my job!!  When you’re unable to work and you have 2 young adults in college and your wife took 3 unpaid leave of absences from her job to care for you and assist you in your recovery, you have a great appreciation for being well enough to earn a living and make a difference for others.  I owe so much to co-workers, friends, family and organizations such as Gilda's Club, faith-based organizations, cancer centers, and folks I never knew.... one cannot complete this journey alone.

The issues I have about work are that many around me perceive me to be unhealthy.  I am actually in better shape than I was before I found out that I had cancer, because I made many lifestyle, exercise and dietary changes that have contributed to my overall wellbeing.  But mostly, I have a lot of support from my colleagues and the staff at city opera where I work.  I especially want to commend the costume department for their willingness and creativity to adjust to my sensitivities about, and my lack of, cleavage!  Not always easy with period costuming. But again, a few tears and a couple of laughs over what's left of this body are nothing compared to the fact that  I am a 5 year stage 4 breast cancer "thriver," and my hope is that more and more women will be telling these kinds of stories over the next few years!

Fatigue and physical issues affect my ability to work to my pre cancer abilities.

I had some fear of being "found out" as a cancer survivor when I was laid off from the job and had to find a new one. A manager in the process of hiring me commented on my very short hair in my driver's license photo (taken right as my hair was growing back in), trying to get me to reveal something.  It was a little scary, as I needed this job and didn't need some excuse made about not hiring me. Of course I kept my mouth shut, and then made some frivolous remark about the whimsy of changing styles. I was nervous for a while and did not mention my survivor status until a year or more had gone by.

The biggest issue for me, after returning from a two-week absence, was neutropenia.  After my very first chemo infusion, I wound up in isolation in the hospital for six days due to an infection which occurred because my immune system was unable to function.  So when my WBC would crash after that, my oncologist really wanted me to stay home and away from people, but that wasn't possible.  When I arrived at my office, I had to use disinfectant spray and wipes to go over my desk, the phone, the keyboard of the computer, the armrests on chairs, all other surfaces, such as bookcases, and the handles on file cabinets and drawers.  My oncologist insisted on this.  She also insisted that during the four hours I was at work, I would not use the kitchen or the bathroom, and I would not be with large groups of people.

I still consider myself disabled due to back pain and fatigue.  Too, I don't want the pressure of a job.  My top priority is taking care of myself.

No issues related to a new profession 4 yrs. following surgery and chemo.  I started my own business teaching English as a second language.  I found that many women from other countries were not comfortable talking about breast cancer.  The topic is still uncomfortable, something to be hidden from the public.

I applied for three positions, was best qualified for each by reason of education and experience, and wasn't offered any of them. I wore a scarf on my bald head and somehow knew that'd keep me out of the running. Now I have had my already limited teaching hours cut back as well.

No issues job related.  Issues are with the side effects of chemo that make me tired, sore and a bit forgetful.

Nobody knew how to treat me upon my return. I was dumb and did not do as graduated a return to work as I should have. I am not prepared to travel long distances for work due to the added stress.

I am still struggling with cognitive issues and feel somewhat impaired.  It is much better now but still effects my ability to stay focused and on track. I see a neuro psychiatrist who prescribes ADD medication to help me do my work. It has really been a difficult journey to accept my new life.

The treatment part I was good with.  I did everything I was supposed to.  After the treatment was over the emotional part was terrible.  I considered it to like PTSD, on the milder side.  Things would just go out of control. I thought I was causing it or thought I was going crazy because I couldn't see what I was being told I was causing.  I finally pulled through it and I was glad because the next summer a fellow employee got hit by an SUV and came back to work and I recognized the PTSD in him.  I wasn’t the only one who got it. Nobody understood him better than me, he said.

Since only my immediate supervisor knew it did not impact my job. However I still do not tell people that I had cancer because I am afraid it will prejudice employers

None.  I've been lucky with my two cancers that we drove them both into remission quickly.  One for 10 years and the other for 5 years already.

Because of some side effects from chemo, namely neuropathy and lymphedema, I have had to modify some activities but it has not been a hindrance to doing my job.

I was forced to retire because I could no longer stoop to pick up items, bear weight of even two texts in front of me, sit for short periods of time, type etc. Any task that required physical effort of even the most minimal nature, affected my spine, which in turn, resulted in pain and discomfort in multiple areas of the body.  Additionally, my oral chemo medicine presents side effects which are more than simply unpleasant.

It's been a few years past my surgery, and I would like to work in an educational setting on a part time basis; however, I have been unable to find anything that fits my qualifications and time constraints.  I think that the economy has greatly impacted my ability to find a job -- and I certainly would not have quit if I had not had surgery and reconstruction coupled with the boss from hell.

I am still unable to work and almost homeless.

I have been fortunate to work at my former employer with reduced hours.  This is perfect for me.

I did not encounter any problems in returning to work.  I worked for my company for a total of 38 years and never felt that I was not valued as an employee before, during or after my multiple cancer experiences.  I was also diagnosed with colon cancer in 1994 while working for the same company and had surgery and chemotherapy for that cancer.  I have been cancer-free for colon cancer for 20 years now.

The position to which I was returned was "invented" for me.  In truth, it was little more than a warehouse for me, until they felt they could safely lay me off again, which they did in January 2014 (4 years later).  This second lay-off was really a blessing in disguise.  Though the work demands of my job were not usually very heavy (to say the least!), I have struggled with increasing bone-crushing fatigue since finishing my treatments, as well as neuropathy, vision disturbances, depression/anxiety, joint and muscle pain, increased "clumsiness" and diminished cognitive function.  Not having to work these last 4 months has been a blessing in disguise.

After I returned 8 weeks after surgery, I moved very, very slow.  I ended up with a frozen shoulder and had to have another surgery to fix that. I also had a torn rotator cuff.   Everyone at work was great.  I was not so self-conscious about my hair any longer.  It was starting to grow back.  That was the least of my problems.  I was doing physical therapy after work to improve my walking and strength.  I was so weak!  Eventually it all came back and I am fine now.  I did what I could.  I work in a large warehouse, so walking is part of the job.  I took my time, and was fine."


Did you change careers or jobs after being diagnosed with cancer?  If so, why?

I had to leave my job as a paralegal; a job and firm which I absolutely loved!

I went from a fully functional, 24 hour on-call employee to a retiree.

No, but I hoped to be able to work more, but just too tired to do so.  When I was working I was too tired to do anything at home.

I work at the same place but have had advancements in responsibilities since being diagnosed.

I did not change careers after my treatment.

I did change jobs after the cancer treatment.  I went from a salaried sales coordinator position to full commission sales at the same company.  It was at the request of my employer in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  They were looking to cut fixed costs and sought my cooperation & flexibility to tackle the new challenge.  I agreed because I felt there wasn't really a good alternative.  I also embraced the opportunity and now am doing well in the new position.

I did not change my career, I love being a social worker especially a school social worker. I enjoy working with the students and knowing that my own stories will help others is helpful to me in how I can work and help the students.

No I love working with children and can't imagine doing anything different

I changed jobs, but within the same profession.

No. I was out using my vacations time & sick time then on family leave/medical until my Dr. gave the ok to come back. This was partly because I also had to be out longer as the chemo messed up my heart & had to get stronger & give time to get better that way also. Went back to exact job I had before cancer.

I did not change career choice because I am the main carrier of the insurance for the family.

Yes I did. It was not because of my cancer. I chose to do something else part time and return to tennis which I love. I was fortunate financially to do so

No, at this point I have not changed careers. I had just increased my days worked in the year and my hours worked in a day right before being diagnosed with cancer. The additional time and days was great and necessary for salary purposes but has been difficult as I battle fatigue. Also I have no other option but to work since I will be on medication the rest of my life and I must keep my benefits. I must stay where I am in my career and I must stay in the state that I live in to ensure I receive my retirement and healthcare coverage.

Limited activity so that I could continue to work.

No. I have talked about possible changes, but have not pulled the trigger even though the diagnosis came 5 years ago this month.

We moved to another state the year after my mastectomy which prompted a job change.  I did run into an insurance issue with my new employer - which is a very small not for profit.  I had to prove continuous coverage due to a pre-existing condition.  My understanding is that with ACA that is no longer the case.  I was fortunate to also be covered by my spouses plan.

I was the manager of a bar and made a very good income before I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to totally change what I was doing because in the town I live in smoking is still allowed in bars. I can no longer be in a building full of smoke without jeopardizing my health further.

The first time I had cancer the chemotherapy left me with enough cognitive impairment I could no longer function at the level required by my career.  I had to find a new field. The second time I had cancer my voice was damaged.  I could no longer do public speaking.  Have not found a new career yet.

I retired.  I was lucky to be able to access my pension 5 years early.

I didn't change careers; however I decided to change employers and was hired at a much slower agency. This agency had regular hours and almost no overtime.  Unfortunately, I took a cut in pay to change, and remained at my first agency on a part time basis. I found my stress level dropped dramatically and I got a lot more rest.  I am now 5 years post diagnosis, and have moved on to a busier department, but in my own community. I no longer commute, and shifts are capped at 12 hours, instead of 16 with a two hour commute.

No, absolutely not. Such a possibility never occurred to me.

I could not work due to long term side effects

No I have not changed careers, I enjoy my work in the woods, I do not want further exposure to the tree marking paint and I am productive doing a task that does not require me to use the paint. I feel healthy, and am a productive employee. I don't understand why this issue keeps rising up.

I was forced to change jobs when I started treatment again.  My previous boss didn't want to put up with it a second time. He didn't want me costing his company any extra money.  I was forced out of my job in a very immature manner.  He threw a tantrum. He never discussed problems with employees.  He just harassed them until they quit or they did something he could fire them for.  No warnings, no chance to improve because he didn't want you there.  He didn't have anything on me except my cancer. His company was too small to file a discrimination lawsuit.  It was the first thing I checked into after filing for unemployment.

The reconstruction of my breast caused so many problems that I haven't been comfortable doing any job since.

I was not able to return to work due to chemo brain. My last treatment was Sept 2011.

Still in the same job but duties have changes a lot and doing more menial work.

I was in a management position and stepped down to a general employee. I did this because I wanted to simplify and reduce the amount of work I did focus more on doing things that mattered to me. At the time I didn't know how long I would be around but now my prognosis is very good. Still no regrets as I have been able to enjoy other things besides work, especially my family and my religious activities.

Same job, same location -- very fortunate.

I did change jobs because that company had a drastic reduction and eventually folded.  From there I went to do public information for a cancer-related nonprofit.  I worked there for about a year and a half and was able to return to the classroom, where I truly belonged. Obviously, this nonprofit would not mistreat me for being a cancer survivor, but it was not a pleasant work atmosphere.  Nothing to do with cancer, but rather office politics.

I have unsuccessfully looked for another part time job, but have not found one yet. I feel they are not being supportive or understanding of me at work, and counting past absences from last year against me for this year too, and do not care about my medical situation.

I continued my career as a Registered Nurse !!!

No--mostly because I am a one-career woman. And the health benefits are too good to walk away from.

I was laid off and had to change jobs.  I had been working in mental health, but tried working in a dialysis unit for the first time after cancer, figuring I had a lot of compassion for those experiencing life threatening physical illness and the horrific treatments for it. I found out that cancer treatment -- at least mine anyway -- was a walk in the park compared to never-ending, never-curing dialysis.  I have become even more of a patient advocate, without revealing myself.

I gave up teaching in the classroom, and I took a position tutoring college students in a program for
students with learning challenges.  I did this because I no longer had the stamina to stand on my feet all day, nor the energy to stay on top of the large number of students in my classes.  As a tutor, I had my own office, and I met with students one at a time, so that was more conducive to my new health issues.  I also cut my work hours to four hours per day.  After chemo and radiation, I have never been the same in terms of stamina and fatigue.

I retired.

I tried. I was completing my PhD at time of diagnosis and expected to get a full time tenure track position. I failed that. Now I am failing at my part time job. Even my retirement rights have been slashed.... now I can't retire with my tiny pension until I am 71, if I live that long.

I quit work and have not found other work. I am not aggressively pursuing new employment primarily due to a new focus I have on my health.

No and No.  I shortened my hours at the part-time job and only picked up more hours in the last year. It's okay now.  The fulltime job is the same 8 hr job.  Most of what needed repairing got repaired.  Having cancer really changes your life; no one could be able to predict how in a million years.

No, I love what I do and it affords me the flexibility I need for treatments.

No, same job, reduced hours.

I did not have to change jobs after being diagnosed with cancer.  I chose to retire at the age of 66 after being employed by the same company for 38 years.

Careers, no.  Jobs, yes.  I was laid off during my treatments for inflammatory breast cancer, returned to service when I grieved that layoff, and put into a new job that had been invented just for me -- and had all of the purpose and point that you can imagine might be the case in such a situation.  It really did, on the whole, suck.

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