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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Returning To Work After Cancer

Written by Lisa Vento on 
21st December, 2017
Updated: 30th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

As someone who was once a career “expert” and even wrote books about it, I had the gall to write a blog post and make videos about returning to work after a “blank space” on the resume due to illness or child care.

Ha! I say to myself. I just had no idea

I mean I did take time off from my full-time work to have my children but during that time, I kept busy with teaching in university and running my own business and other stuff. I had no idea what it was like to be “sick sick” really and truly sick. I only knew things like blood clotting disorders and flus and I had not a clue about being diagnosed with something that could very well be life threatening.

It hit me when I was talking to my surgeon after diagnosis

Asking him over and over again, “Will I die?” and he just kept shaking his head and finally said, “No one knows who will live and/or die - I could get hit with a bus tomorrow.” And then it clicked. You see, if someone without cancer goes to the doctor and asks, “Will I die?” the answer would be a resounding, “No!” For us cancer patients and other chronic illnesses, we know that the answer is never “no” and that it truly isn’t no for anyone - how many times do we hear of or read about someone dying randomly from the flu, or in childbirth, etc? Life is fickle and for those of us who dance close to the edges around where “health” vs “ill” is so cut off,  so sudden, we get this truly.

At the same time, we are trying to still be “us”

For most of us, this includes our work life or our profession, our passion or just how we pay the bills. There is so much financial toxicity in being diagnosed with cancer. It affects us in different ways no matter where we are in the world. Some of us get fired (like I did)  or find we cannot work due to the side effects of our treatment or the long-lasting results of AFTER treatment.

There is financial toxicity surrounding a cancer diagnosis

We all struggle with something

For those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to feel like ourselves again. I am working to help with that, slowly but surely. First, I am helping myself to be career ready, pixie cut and fake boob and all.

I am doing this by utilizing my network and also by embracing the fact that I am me, but different. I know I do not want to work somewhere there is stress. I do not want to be someplace that I am not appreciated. I want to be able to be Lisa and not just “mom” or “cancer patient”.

To get ready for this transition

I am teaching myself how to interview again post a huge life change. I do not intend to bring it up but a simple google search will show my background because I chose to blog about it and share my story. That being said, I do not want this disease plot twist to be a focus on my job interviews, even though my hair is a new pixie cut and my right boob is just a prosthetic and I am down to what I weighed in high school (on purpose to help limit the risk of recurrence).

As part of my recovery and my plot twist to get back to “normal” post breast cancer, I decided to file to be a non-profit here in the United States to help other cancer patients get “work ready”  again by using my talents for resumes, for free, to help others. I have been helping people get their resumes to shine since 2000 and I even wrote a book or two about it  and now I am thinking I can take that piece of my past into my present and offer this service to help anyone with that first step everyone needs in order to get to their next step. The very first thing before you even get to the interview that you need is a rocking resume.

With cancer treatments and other health-related issues, you might not have consecutive employment, thus the “blank space” on the resume. If this happens, you can organize your resume by “job type” so that the dates are not so easily calculated or you can leave the dates off of your resume.

I like to front-load all of the resumes

I help write with a header that includes a small 2-4 word explanation of what the skill set is (so for me, it is technology project manager for most of my resume versions - and yes, I advocate for different resume versions for the specific job searches you might have or the skills you might want to highlight).  I also put a summary of skills or other important things at the top, too.

Trying to find yourself after a cancer diagnosis

The most common mistake I see in resumes

Across the board, is too many pages and too wordy. No executive has the bandwidth to read through your multiple paragraphs of content to figure out whether or not they want to interview you. Your resume should be brief and to the point so that people can get the idea of who you are and just enough to pique their interest to bring you in and interview you.

When you get the interview, do the best you can to stay focused on your skills and talents and not your recent plot twist with a life-threatening illness.

Further reading

Personal Cancer Stories

The Cancer Shop – All The Items You Need When You Have A Cancer Diagnosis

Me And My Radiotherapy Treatment: What You Cant See

How To Buy Thoughtful & Appropriate Breast Cancer Gifts For Women

Popular breast cancer gifts

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