a woman looks tired at work while her coworker looks on in concern

Work and Cancer - To Disclose or Not?

The questions came all hours of the night and day. What was I going to do? Do I keep working? Do I tell them about my cancer? Will I be fired? What is going to happen to me? The cancer wasn’t causing me to be sick at all, but it was the unending questions regarding maintaining a full-time job while fighting cancer that was debilitating.

Everyone is different

I started researching the workplace and illness. I learned that many go to work every single day with full-time jobs while simultaneously going through treatment. Many scale their work hours down to part-time jobs while others take some time off and return to full-time status as their disease diminishes and they regain strength and energy. Everyone is different, however. While some are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance, others are not able to.

Self evaluation and balance

There’s a healthy balance in knowing what your body will allow and when you need to rest. You have to take into account your mental capacity, your physical capacity and ultimately your emotional capacity as cancer affects all of this. Personally, most days I forget that I am sick and working allows me to maintain balance and normalcy, but I do fight fatigue quite often and try to combat that as best I can. We have to self-evaluate our own strengths and limitations, as they do not look the same and can change at any given moment.

Remember, you are still you

You’ve decided to return to work on a full-time basis and have landed a job interview, but there’s that elephant in the room. Do you disclose your disease in an interview?

Well, let’s think! Does your cancer define you? It absolutely does not! Did your cancer grant you the skill sets, integrity, and character that qualifies you for the job for which you are applying? Of course not! At this point, I believe this is a personal decision that each individual person must make for himself or herself.

Disclosing in the interview

The interview? What about your first day on the job? You don’t want to come in with an “oh by the way” kind of thing, so in my opinion, if you are comfortable disclosing in the interview at the “tell me about yourself”, that is strictly up to you and acceptable to do so. It shows your strength and resilience. I have been very open about my disease since diagnosis; therefore, I am open and honest with a prospective employer. Many patients are very private and do not want to talk about their disease to their family not to mention a prospective employer, so again, it’s up to the patient.

Disclosing to my current employer

Just prior to my diagnosis, I was hired at a local tourism office when the incidental finding notated nodules in both of my lungs. I was undergoing multiple tests, a surgery involving a hospital stay, and more testing, so I decided that I needed to tell my boss about my situation. I wasn’t sure what was on the other side, but I was required to miss numerous days of work as my doctors were 90 miles away and I had exhausted all of my leave.

I chose to be open and honest about my absences. Was this required? No. I was not required by any law to disclose any medical or personal information to my employer. They could not legally ask me questions per the state statutes in my state although an “at will” state. However, I made the decision to ask for a meeting and explained my circumstances. My supervisor at the time was very grateful and appreciative of my honesty and extremely supportive. They were even willing to work with me and allow me to work part-time if I so desired. I realize that my experience with my employer is not definitive of most. Many are often fired or asked to resign due to disease. It’s strictly situational and circumstantial, unfortunately.

I disclosed my lung cancer...now what?

Once you have disclosed to an employer, you’ve done your part. Your illness is not who you are, but something that happened to you. Keep doing you. When you need a break or a day off, ask for it.

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