Returning to Work After Cancer: Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

Returning to Work After Cancer: Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

Posted on: June 12, 2015

Few people are more familiar with new beginnings than cancer survivors. New beginnings might mean many things for you, but some survivors find the path to wellness begins with a new career — or a new take on an existing career. Here are four questions to ask yourself about returning to work after cancer.

Four questions cancer survivors should ask before returning to work

Getting back to work after cancer treatment can be daunting. You may lack the energy you had prior to treatment, and for some, the infamous “chemobrain” makes keeping focus a challenge. Still, many crave the fulfillment of a successful career. Maybe you were at the top of your professional game before cancer treatment and want to regain your career momentum. Or perhaps your cancer diagnosis has left you with residual physical impairments or health risks that make your previous career less than ideal. You might have to start over, picking a career that better suits your “new normal.”

Ask yourself these four key questions.

Am I Ready?

Are you physically and emotionally well enough to embark on a career change? If not, you might need to allow yourself a little more recovery time. ALL changes have the potential to be stressful, even good changes. So don’t jump in too soon; give yourself time to be at your best. Then, you can begin the process of looking for a job that meets your needs.

How Do I Find The Right Fit?

How do you know what you need? Start by learning more about yourself. The cancer experience can change you, as any trying time can. It can impact your personality, your priorities and your perspective. Try taking a personality test, such as the Myers Briggs or Strong Interest Inventory. Some websites and services offer these assessments free, while others offer them for a fee, which may or may not include a personal career counselor. Either way, these are not meant to pinpoint your exact career, but to increase your awareness of your strengths and weaknesses so you can focus on the key things that would be satisfying in your work.

What's the Best Way to Research Career Options?

This question actually should elicit more questions, including:

  • What work would I find meaningful and enjoyable?
  • Will this career be stimulating?
  • Will I be able to find this job, and will the pay be sufficient to keep me afloat?
  • Is this a job that will allow for career advancement?
  • Do I have existing skills that will help me in my chosen career?
  • Will I need additional training or education, and can I afford to pursue that education?

Answering these questions is probably the hardest part of the journey back to a career following cancer. When you’ve identified the path you are interested in, consider job shadowing to see what that career is like in the real world. Look for cancer-related career workshops, such as those sponsored by Cancer and Careers or Memorial Sloan Kettering.

What's the Best Way to Market Myself?

If it’s been awhile since you have dipped your toes in the career waters, consider learning more about marketing yourself via social media. Give your resume a facelift.

Not sure where to begin? Cancer and Careers ( is an excellent resource, as it provides a free resume review service, mock interviews, career coaches, advice on online reputation management, and many free materials to help both you and your current or future boss.

Whatever career you pursue, remember that all careers include a level of stress. So maintain a healthy work/life balance. Just as a fulfilling career is important, so are fulfilling personal relationships, hobbies, and spirituality. Cancer can throw everything out of balance. Getting back to work is only a piece of regaining your balance. It isn’t the whole pie.

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