New Career After Cancer? 4 Things to Keep in Mind | I'm Taking Charge

New Career After Cancer? 4 Things to Keep in Mind

New Career After Cancer? 4 Things to Keep in Mind

You’ve finished treatment and your doctor says you’re hopefully cancer-free. You may find that things are a bit different. This doesn’t just refer to your outlook on life or the physical changes you went through. You’re not alone if suddenly post-cancer life has you dreaming of a new career. We’ve put together some information for you when thinking through a new career after cancer.

As you think through this possibility of a new career after cancer, we want to help you understand why breast cancer may change your perspective, what you might want to ask yourself when considering a post-cancer career change, and considerations before taking a job. Finally, we’ve got some tips and resources to help with job interviews after breast cancer.

Many women find that the careers they had before breast cancer are unfulfilling after their breast cancer journey is over.

Roughly 31 percent of individuals who have had cancer look for a new career after cancer treatments are finished. Among those, 33 percent cite a change in their interests.

But what causes this change? Let’s dig into what may be fueling your desire for a career change.

1) Why a New Career After Cancer?

breast cancer and work


Breast cancer changes your perspective. You’ve most likely gone through your life understanding that eventually your time will come to an end. This idea is shared by everyone. But when you have breast cancer, that sense of limited time is multiplied. You are suddenly faced with mortality in a very real and immediate way. As a result, the way you perceive time changes.

After breast cancer, you’re more likely to become impatient with seemingly unimportant tasks. Meaningless work can make you feel frustrated. Rather than spending your time doing what society says you should, you’d rather spend it doing something that calls to you.

This change is extremely common. Many women find themselves viewing life as more meaningful than they did before breast cancer. Instead of spending your days in an office, you may prefer participating in more creative activities. Or perhaps you would like to focus more on leisure activities. Or maybe you simply need to feel that you are giving back in some way, that you are helping people. This change is rarely seen among women who already enjoyed a creative, leisure, or “helping” career before being diagnosed with breast cancer. These are legitimate passions that may fuel your change to a new career after cancer.

Despite the medical bills you have collected, your idea about money changes as well. Women who focused on having high-paying careers before breast cancer often put money in a secondary position. They choose to focus on meaningful work instead of profitable work. Meanwhile, women who lived paycheck to paycheck may feel motivated to finally go back to school or seek out a career they love that they previously thought they weren’t suited for.


2) What to Ask Yourself About a New Career After Cancer

breast cancer and work


It’s never easy to find a new job. You may not be looking forward to the process, but you will have to face it nonethless. You may have chosen to change your career due to a change in perspective, but you may have also been shoved down this path if your previous employer was unable to grant you extended medical leave. Either way, you’re once again in the position of job searching. If your health impacted your ability to work previously, it can be anxiety-inducing to put yourself out there again. Breathe.

Find Your New Post-Cancer Direction

Even if you’re looking for a job in the same field as before your breast cancer, still take a moment to reflect on how you’ve changed and how that should impacts to roles you look to fill in a future job.

When you’ve decided to change careers, you need to figure out what direction you hope to move in. It can be scary to make a major change, especially after what you and your family just went through. But if you are no longer satisfied in your old career, it’s perfectly valid to look for a new one.

Try answering some of these questions to help you reflect on your new direction:

  • Does the thought of my old career feel satisfying to me?
  • What are my new dreams and desires?
    • For my time?
    • For future accomplishments?
    • For my relationships?
  • Does the career change I’m considering reflect and respect these dreams?
  • What sort of financial responsibilities must I fill?
  • Do I already have the skills for what I’m considering doing?
  • How can I learn the skills that I need?
  • Is there anything keeping me from my dreams?

3) Considerations for Job Hunting After Breast Cancer

breast cancer and work


As you may already know, job hunting isn’t an easy task. During the process you’re faced with a variety of challenges. Not to mention, it can be discouraging to send out so many applications and only hear back from a fraction of them.

After breast cancer, you may also be concerned about explaining the large gap in your work history. The potential need for side effect treatments can also make finding the right position difficult.

Some of the best ways to prepare for these challenges is to move forward a little bit at a time. Start by figuring out what sort of career you want. Then take the time to refresh your resume. You can practice interviews, learn about companies and organizations you are interested in or how to start your own, and even find new career mentors.

To Tell or Not to Tell

It is not necessary for you to tell potential employers about your experience with breast cancer. However, you can discuss your experience if you would like. Talking about your breast cancer experience can help you demonstrate a new dedication to your job and can explain why you suddenly switched careers. On the other hand, while there are laws in place to prevent health discrimination, some potential employers may be nervous about hiring someone with a cancer background. You will have to decide how much to tell and when. It will likely depend a lot on the rapport you feel with your potential employer and your own gut feeling on the topic.

Give Your Feelings Some Freedom

Allow your emotions about work the freedom to exist in you and be honest about them. Do not bury your feelings. It’s normal to feel worried about handling a new work schedule. You may be concerned about your ability to perform in your new job. Or maybe you are uncertain how you will transition from the role of a patient to that of an employee. If possible, try finding support groups to talk through these fears. Therapists, friends, and family can also help by lending an understanding ear.

Investigate Your Potential Health Insurance

Your medical insurance is also something that you must consider carefully when looking for a job. In most situations, your employer should provide you with insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But seeing as how the ACA’s future is uncertain, this might not be much of a comfort.

When you are preparing to accept a new job, always go over the medical insurance plans that your employer offers. Make sure you clearly understand what is covered under the plan. It may be helpful to talk to an insurance representative or Human Resources professional to discuss concerns specific to your life after breast cancer.

If breast reconstruction and revision surgeries are on your radar, you may want to specifically explore our page on breast reconstruction and insurance. Understanding the fine print will be essential for you.


4) Tips for Job Hunting After Breast Cancer Treatment

As you search for a new job after breast cancer, try making job searching your temporary career. On a regular basis set realistic goals that you can achieve by the end of each day or week. This includes taking online courses, learning new skills, or sending out a specific number of resumes. By focusing on your job hunt this way, you can feel more accomplished even if you don’t get a call back.

Aside from that, what else can you do?

Tailor Your Resume to the Position You Want

breast cancer and work


One of the first steps to job hunting is getting your resume up-to-date.

Consider how you want to handle the gap in your work history. Traditional resume styles usually suit work gaps less than a year long. These resumes list each job in order of when you held it, and they often feature only years instead of months. Work gaps that are more than a year long might need a functional resume. With this style, the applicant places job details at the bottom of the page instead of the top. Above them is a brief section that highlights your skills and achievements. You can see examples of both styles and a combo style here.

The resume style you choose may also depend on the type of career you are seeking. Think about what is going to be most important for a potential employer to read about. If you possess the skills needed for a particular position, it may be beneficial to highlight them. Meanwhile, you may prefer focusing on work experience instead of specific skills if you are applying to a totally new career.

Regardless of the specific type of resume you choose, you want to include a few things:

  1. Briefly discuss how your current skills fit the needs of the company you’re applying to.
  2. Use industry keywords when your can.
  3. Showcase a relevant summary of what you are capable of.

Network in Your New Career’s Field

breast cancer and work


Networking is important for getting the job you want. Many job positions are filled through some sort of personal connection. Just meeting a hiring manager during an event or conference could help you stand out during the application process.

Don’t be afraid to ask friends, former colleagues, and even acquaintances for help. Doing so may seem a bit awkward. But you may find that most people are happy to help you jump start your new career after cancer.

When you’re networking, keep things simple and to the point. If your friends and colleagues have no leads, try reaching out beyond your circle. You can contact someone from a school alumni association. Perhaps there is a professional organization in your area dedicated to the field you want to be in. Even mentioning your job search to neighbors or dentists can help.

However, keep in mind that networking operates best when it benefits both people. When you ask others for help, be willing to provide help in return.

Interviews and the Americans with Disabilities Act

breast cancer and work


You finally got an interview! Now you just have to get through it.

Interviews are often more stressful than they need to be. You will likely be concerned about addressing work gaps and other lacking areas of your resume. Rehearsing what you plan on saying ahead of time greatly reduces any anxiety you may feel. If you know certain parts of your work history will be brought up, figure out how you want to address them. Try figuring out answers to common interview questions. And if you can, complete practice interviews with friends or family.

Always remember that you don’t have to say that you had breast cancer during an interview.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot ask whether you have a disability or not. They also cannot ask if you are undergoing treatment for any type of cancer. This is true even if your appearance may give it away. Once someone offers you a job, you may have to reveal more about your medical history.

Keep Your Boss Updated, If You Choose To

Depending on your relationship to your new boss, you may decide it’s worth mentioning your cancer diagnosis. In that case, it may also be a good idea to keep them updated as you recover. This gives you a chance to discuss the work load you can handle in the coming weeks. It also helps you address any treatment-related breaks you may need early on. Furthermore, if you started your job part-time, updating your employer may give you a chance to request more time.

If you would like to read about some more tips related to job hunting after cancer, check out the Cancer and Careers article on the subject.

You may also be interested in reading about individuals who changed their careers after cancer. Cancer and Careers has another post sharing these individuals’ stories. also has its own article about survivors who changed careers. These individuals didn’t all go through breast cancer, but you may still find their stories inspirational.

Finally, know that you’re not alone. Many of the women in our Survivorship Stories also changed careers after their cancer diagnosis, as well as many of the women we’ve interviewed for our podcast.


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About the Author:

Jessica Henslee
Jessica is a powerful breast cancer fact-finder. When our team puts a question before her, she can turn up the answer. As such, she has been the engine behind many of our most informative articles—providing women with the answers they need to the questions they’re asking.If you were to meet Jessica in her day-to-day life, you’d probably notice her wearing black and listening to music. She says if you want to get her something special, she’ll take a fancy cheese platter over flowers any day! She also has a special love for corn flakes and oatmeal raisin cookies.