Should a History of Cancer Be Considered a Workplace Disability?
When cancer strikes, it can disrupt almost every aspect of a person’s life. From family to social life to the workplace, everything is affected.
While a big part of that is the fault of the disease, not all of the blame can be put on the cancer itself. Other people place their own expectations and generalizations on people with cancer, especially when careers are involved.
Because of this, there are certain regulations in place regarding what you do or do not have to reveal to your employers. It is one of the disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. But is cancer itself a weakness in the workplace?
Racheli, a survivor of lymphoma and longtime employee, does not think so.
From nanny to cancer patient
Racheli was working as a nanny when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was also undergoing schooling to take the next career step. But the cancer diagnosis threw both of those options out of the window as the treatment interfered with her studies and her ability to work with children.
She decided that instead of reveling in misery at being forcefully unemployed, she was going to start a new career. She went on an unusual route. In her words, “if I couldn’t work with kids, what could I do? Work with beer, of course.”
Thankfully, she had a friend who already worked in the brewing industry. Racheli could not yet hold down a full time job, but she could work events on occasion, so she was hired by a beer company to do just that.
After her treatment was finished, she recovered fully and became employed full-time by that same company. Her job is fulfilling and she is accepted by her fellow employees, despite “scars, fatigue, and even my chemo brain.”
That company was a great fit for her. But along this journey she encountered a warning, and it disturbed her.
Cancer and careers
While she was still undergoing treatment, Racheli attended a conference for people with cancer. The topic was careers. There was a lot of information available about the relationship between cancer patients and their employers.
Most of it focused on how much you had to disclose to your employer about your cancer. Some of it was even about hiding your diagnosis from the company for which you work. Warning signs were mentioned; some companies see cancer as a weakness, and you have to protect yourself from them.
Not everyone can just up and switch careers, especially when financial burdens loom from cancer treatment. Your company may not be as friendly as the beer company Racheli works for. Even if they are, it is still a good idea to educate yourself on how to best mesh your cancer and career together.
There are several organizations which help with this endeavor. The one which helped Racheli is called Cancer and Careers. They help people who already have a job and are working through their cancer, and also people who are looking for a job while undergoing treatment.
Some of these resources helped Racheli after her lymphoma diagnosis. But the warnings gnawed at her gut. She decided to never work at a job which considered her cancer a weakness. Second, was cancer really a weakness?
Read on to learn more about Racheli, and what employees and employers can do about handling cancer in the workplace.