Last Updated: August 20, 2018
Moving Forward: Perspectives from Survivors and Doctors. A Patient Education Video Series.

Dealing with cancer while in the workplace may be a concern for you. In these two “Moving Forward” videos from ASCO and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, learn more about job-related issues from oncology experts and young adult survivors.

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Young Adults: Returning to Work after Cancer

Cancer in Young Adults

“Moving Forward” Video Series for Young Adults with Cancer 


Video 1

Cancer.Net® A Patient Education Series for Young Adults with Cancer

ASCO® American Society of Clinical Oncology


Diane Blum, MSW; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: When you have cancer as a young adult, work is particularly complicated because you're probably really in a transitional stage in your life. Maybe you don't have a full-time job yet. Maybe you have a job that you don't like a lot and you want to make some changes. It can be very complicated at the time that you're also going through treatment to deal with work. If you're working and having cancer treatment, you're going to probably need to tell the people who you work with, or at least your boss, because you're going to need time off.

Being treated for cancer takes time. You might not always feel well enough to come to work right after treatment. Some people get chemotherapy that makes them lose their hair. So you're going to have to disclose some information about this. It's really your choice of how you disclose it. You probably have to disclose it to the person who you report to. That's a necessity. And whether or not you tell your other coworkers is really up to you.

Nita Seibel, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: And what you have to remember is that you're sort of in the driver's seat. It's up to you what you want to reveal to others, how much you want to tell them or confide in them. You don't have to tell your co-workers anything. If they are close to you, you probably will want to tell them certain characteristics or certain experiences you had.

Diane Blum: From a practical point of view, it makes sense to tell people, give them a little bit of information about what's going on. Say, "I've gotten this diagnosis. I'm going to be treated. I plan to work through all of this, but I'm going to need some time. And I might be showing some signs of this treatment." It's often easier for people to take kind of the first step in telling people than to have people talking about what's going on with somebody and is something the matter. So easier again to be the person who gives the information, controls the information.

Dr. Seibel: You don't need to worry about that, that you're more vulnerable in the workplace because you've had cancer. There are some protections in place. One of these is the ADA or the Americans with Disability Act, which actually says that your employer, within reason, should provide the assistance that you need. And this can be in a variety of forms. But it's important for you if you feel that this would be helpful, that you have a discussion with your employer about what could be done if this would be in the form of having flexibility with your hours, if you could do telecommuting. There are a variety of ways that this could be approached.

Diane Blum: There is also a whole body of law now that does protect people against discrimination because they've had cancer. So you should know what your rights are and you should also think about how you want to handle this yourself. What do you want to tell? When do you want to tell it?

Dr. Seibel: Issues about work can be easily addressed through social workers. And there are referrals that can be made to social workers and even get specific guidance on work-related issues. The most important thing is just to let us know about these issues so we can help you with them.

Diane Blum: You might not have had a regular job at the point that you were diagnosed and treated. Now your treatment is done and you're going out into the marketplace and looking for a job. It's up to you what you tell the person who's interviewing you. I usually would advise being honest about it and talking about what the situation was, but there's some people who feel that that's just not right for them. And they are, in fact, are not obligated to disclose this.

Dr. Seibel: If you're already working and now you're talking about going back to work full-time and how much you confide in others who you work with, it's really up to you. They probably know somewhat why you've been gone, your extended absence, but now that you're going to be back full-time, you have to decide how you want to approach this and how much you want to confide in the people you work with. It's probably a good idea to have a discussion with your supervisor when you first go back about what you think you'll be able to do, what anticipated absences you may have from work, just to prepare them. And probably one of the most important things for you to remember as you go back to work is not to overextend yourself. Give yourself some time to get back to the routine and for your body to get used to it.

What You Can Do

  • Become familiar with your workplace rights and responsibilities
  • Decide what you’d prefer to keep private from coworkers and practice short answers to possible questions
  • Talk with an oncology social worker about job-related concerns

 [Closing and Credits]

Cancer.Net™: For more information, visit

This video series was made possible by a grant from LIVESTRONG to the Conquer Cancer Foundation.


Conquer Cancer Foundation® of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The opinions expressed in the video do not necessarily reflect the views of ASCO or the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

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© 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology®. All rights reserved

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Video 2

LIVESTRONG® Foundation

A video series for young adults with cancer


Dan Waeger, cancer survivor: My name is Dan Waeger, and I was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer when I was 22 years old. I was in business school, with big plans to work on Wall Street. I had no idea how cancer was about to change everything. When I came to terms with my diagnosis, I knew that I needed to get through treatment first, and then I would worry about life after cancer. After I graduated, I decided that having continuous health insurance coverage was the most important thing to me. I shifted my attention to just finding any job that offered good benefits.

Speaker 2: Worrying about finding a job with insurance was, I think, a bigger worry for me than it was or some of my non-survivor peers.

Speaker 3: I can't go for a job that doesn't offer health insurance, that doesn't offer vacation and sick leave time, and family medical benefits.

Speaker 4: I am self-employed, so when I don't work, I don't get paid [laughter]. And, I mean, there were times when I just could not work. On the other hand, it gave me the flexibility to just be able to say, "That's it. I'm down for a month."

Speaker 5: A prospective employer can't ask me about my health unless it was a position that directly relied on my health and well-being to do.

Speaker 3: Now that I'm looking for work, I've definitely noticed discrimination. "Why have you taken a year off of work?"

Speaker 6: Do you think you're going to slip, or you're going to say something that shouldn't be said? And I couldn't go on interviews for a while because I couldn't shake hands, and you can't go on an interview and not shake somebody's hand.

Speaker 5: But if I was to say that I ever had cancer, or that I'm currently undergoing cancer treatments, there's always the off chance that an employer would not want to hire me, just because they're worried about their insurance premiums.

Speaker 7: I received extraordinary support from my co-workers during the time that I was being treated.

Speaker 6: The thing that's amazing is, the owner of the company said--and I came in all white and just had treatment, and he's like, "You can work here. If you have to leave, you have to leave. Just stay an extra hour." I was so lucky.

Speaker 8: I took off 9 months on disability. When I came back, they made sure I had a job.

Speaker 7: And then there was a counter to all that support that I got, which was that my direct supervisor at the time decided that maybe I wasn't reliable.

Speaker 9: My last promotion was coming up, and when I pushed the issue, they started coming back at me about more doctors' notes, and I'm not performing my full duties at my performance level, and they weren't going to give me my promotion.

Speaker 7: And after she did that, it was very hard for me to move forward there. And eventually, I had to leave in order then to find new opportunities and grow professionally.

Speaker 10: Before, I was on a fast track where I had a view of myself working in finance, and that was what I was going to do, and I wanted to be successful in that. And I've switched tracks and said, "You know what? It's okay if you don't do that. Just find something that you love to do."

Speaker 11: My brain tumor gave me purpose. I was diagnosed at a time where I didn't really have any direction with my career, and as I reflected more about how I was spending my time, and we all give so much of our lives to work, I wanted to use that time to really make a difference. 

Dan Waeger: As young adult cancer survivors, we have a lot to think about when choosing a job. Do I have to tell them I have cancer during my job interview? When do the health insurance benefits kick in? Will I be able to take on projects and successfully complete them if I'm still going through treatment? What's the sick leave policy? What about discrimination? Did I mention health insurance? I don't think I have to tell you that finding a job can be stressful. The great thing about working is that it can take your mind off cancer. Your coworkers can be another support system for you, and being successful in your job can be great for your emotional health. My hope is that the people I work with look at me and see my positive attitude and unwavering commitment, not the fact that I have cancer. Any company would want those qualities in an employee. I feel like I'm at a job interview. You would hire me, right? I know it can be hard, so good luck.

What you can do:

  • Understand your employee benefits and rights
  • Think about what you share, why, how and to whom
  • Maintain a healthy work/life balance

Dan Waeger: If you're having a hard time finding a job or returning to work, talk to your doctor, or contact these cancer-related organizations for more information. 


LIVESTRONG® Foundation

A video series for young adults with cancer

Thank you to all of the cancer survivors who participated in this video. Footage was pulled from more than 200 cancer survivor interviews conducted by the LIVESTRONG Foundation since 2003.

This video was supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number U58/CCU6230066-04 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.