Going back to work after cancer

Globally around 17 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year (Source: American Cancer Society). 85% of these people are younger than retirement age (usually younger than 65) and of these 59% survive. Since we are better at diagnosing cancer earlier, and are more successful in treating it, there are 8-9 million people globally and yearly, who  have been through the cancer experience in the prime of their lives. When the treatment is over, some of us realize we are exactly where we want to be professionally, but most of us think we are not. 

Cancer is a wake up call, also work-wise. It forces you to rethink your career choices and critically re-examine your work-life balance. Many cancer survivors experience a loss of motivation to continue pursuing a career, a loss of sense of purpose related to how they spend their working hours or feel like what they have been doing does not represent who they truly are (or want to be) after overcoming cancer. 

When the treatment is over, some of us realize we are exactly where we want to be professionally, but most of us think we are not. 

Often these people return to work because not many can afford quitting, but show extremely high levels of disengagement, absenteeism and are prone to burnouts. In their mind, these people see cancer as an opportunity to re-evaluate their careers and find that their work priorities have changed. Most often they want a new job which will allow them more flexibility to pursue other goals or may want to explore working in a field which is more aligned with their sense of purpose and personal fulfillment.

If you find yourself in this situation consider the following: 
  • Work with a career coach to help you redefine your core values and find out what makes life meaningful to you 
  • Connect your professional activity to your personal sense of meaning
  • Examine if you can do something more aligned with your values and sense of purpose in your current job, with your current employer. Sometimes all it takes is a slightly changed job description 
  • If radical career change is required, career change experts give us valuable advice: look before you leap. Research your options, look around, plan your next steps 
  • If you can, don’t impulsively quit your old job. Change at a pace you’re comfortable with. Be aware that the urge is to go too quickly  
  • Accept that there might be some extra education/certification required. Allow yourself to do that stress-free and at your own pace 
  • Be aware that the new career might require you to start with some entry-level jobs, and lower salary, because you need to build a new career profile 
  • Network extensively to meet people who are doing the type of things you are thinking about

And remember, that no matter your current situation and age - keep going, be brave and enjoy everything you are doing in life, because otherwise what’s the point...