Cancer Poses Challenges in the Workplace and on the Job Hunt

The majority of survivors and patients with cancer want to work but are faced with common challenges such as fatigue, managing side effects, and taking longer to complete work tasks, a recent survey has found.

Tara Cernacek

The majority of survivors and patients with cancer want to work but are faced with common challenges such as fatigue, managing side effects, and taking longer to complete work tasks, a recent survey has found.

The online Harris poll, administered on behalf of Cancer and Careers, surveyed 913 employed and unemployed patients and survivors of cancer between May 6 and June 3, 2015.

Survey results revealed that 73% of patients and survivors of cancer want to work, but 59% of those who worked through treatment reported feeling that they had no choice. In addition, 68% of employed survivors reported financial concerns as their primary reason for continuing to work during treatment.

While nearly 70% of patients and survivors agreed that working helps in their treatment and recovery, they acknowledged that cancer is accompanied by particular challenges in the workplace.

Among those currently working and in treatment:

• 42% reported fatigue at work

• 26% had challenges managing discomfort from physical posttreatment side effects

• 23% take longer to complete work tasks

• 29% feel that they haven’t advanced as quickly.

And, nearly 40% said cancer negatively impacted their long-term career goals.

New York resident Tara Cernacek was just finishing treatment for stage IIb triple-positive breast cancer when she was let go from her job as an executive assistant for a nonprofit organization.

“Working was very valuable to me,” she said. “Once I was laid off in April 2013 and wasn’t working, I found myself being consumed by depression, financial worries, all kinds of worries.”

Cernacek turned to Cancer and Careers, where she was connected with a career coach who helped revamp her résumé and rehearsed the interview processes.

The Cancer and Careers website (www.cancerandcareers.org) also served as a hub of information for Cernacek about getting back to work after a cancer diagnosis.

“While work gives many cancer patients and survivors a sense of purpose and normalcy, without the proper resources, balancing it with a cancer diagnosis can often be overwhelming,” Rebecca Nellis, MPP, chief mission officer of Cancer and Careers, said in a statement. “Survivors need to be prepared with the right knowledge and tools to help them navigate workplace challenges and get the support they need.”

Since working with Cancer and Careers, Cernacek has landed several temp jobs and just recently secured an office manager position at an advocacy organization.

“I love working because it does distract me from thinking about the disease. It gives me a sense of purpose, and it’s a distraction in the sense of fulfillment,” she said.

A majority of the employed respondents (73%) also reported that working during treatment helped them cope.

Along with challenges in the workplace, the survey found that patients and survivors face challenges during the job hunt.

Fear that disclosing their cancer diagnosis would lessen their chances of getting hired affected 61% of respondents, an increase from 50% in 2014. Only 9% reported having been asked about their cancer diagnosis during an interview, but 31% who have been on an interview since their diagnosis said they were asked an inappropriate or illegal question regarding their health.

Cernacek said that she avoided interviews while her hair was growing back, but one of the key pieces of advice she took from the career coach was to not focus on the cancer during interviews.

“Before my diagnosis, I thought that working would be the last thing you think about when you have cancer. But it’s so not true,” she said. “Working definitely saved me.”