Finding work after cancer

I was made redundant with my whole department three days before my cancer diagnosis.  What a great week that was!  I have had chemotherapy (very badly affected, three long hosptial stays after emergency admissions, c.dif, sepsis, pancytopenia, multiple blood transfusions), right mastectomy, total axillary clearance, radiotherapy, one year of herceptin and I had a second mastectomy two months ago due to my very dodgy family history and a variation of the PalB2 gene.  I have been off work for 18 months as I have been very ill and  there’s never been a gap long enough between my treatments for me to actually recover.  My ongoing health issues from my treatment are tiredness, lymphedema in the right arm, osteoarthritis in both hips, stiffness in upper body and arms.  But generally I feel much better and ready to seek some proper work.  I was a teacher before but I really don’t feel strong enough to deal with big classrooms and the mountains of preparation of marking that I used to take in my stride.  I’d like some office work that I can do and leave.  Preferably part-time.  I know it’s hard for us all but I am envious of those of you who have a job to go back to and have rights.  Because I have an eighteen month gap on my CV which I will have to explain.  I phoned MacMillan and they said that I didn’t have to tell them what I was doing in those eighteen months but I think that would be more suspicious.  Also, I would be very uncomfortable not telling the truth.  After all, I have nothing to be ashamed of, do I?  But who is going to touch me knowing that I have had cancer?  At best I will need time for future follow up appointments.  At worst I may have health issues requiring time off.  I feel very positive about my recovery and ability to do useful work but I wondered if anyone here had any advice to help me deal with anxious employers at interview, assuming I get offered interviews…

Dear Eddi

i think you are obviously an extremely articulate, intelligent and very resilient lady.

i know someone with better advice will be along soon but just wanted to wish you all the best with your job hunting.

I wonder if you could afford maybe to do some voluntary work first whilst you are looking…?

It would give you confidence ( we all need that even going back to our existing jobs!!) and also give you pointers to what level/ hours you might manage?

I know what you mean about the application forms, particularly if you are an open and transparent person!

I think you ought to have a supporting letter because I don’t think anyone would deny your motivation /determination; I think it would make applying easier. I think your only danger may be that you might be over qualified.

I think you are very sensible to avoid jobs with high stress levels.

I went back to work on my acute medical ward ( I am a nurse), with a drop in both hours and position but have still found it very tough. The worst bit is coping with the pace! And the chemo brain! And of course the physicality of it all (although my treatment to date has been much more straightforward than yours…)

so avoid all that sort of stuff! Do you sleep ok? ( I don’t , hence the post at 2 am!)

I told most people on my diagnosis as I work at the hospital where I needed mx, chemo, herceptin ( which I am finally coming to the end of). I know it’s not something you have to but I have found my colleagues don’t seem to resent any appointments etc. But it is a different/ difficult thing when starting from scratch I know.

Anyway, hopefully someone with better advice will be along shortly.

Sending you a very big hug. I’d love to know how you get on.




Hi Eddi,

Like you, I didn’t have a job to return to after treatment sand was so worried no one would employ me. I was also advised that legally I don’t have to disclose it, but like you felt that this just added suspicion about my gap in employment. In the end I found that it was easiest to be honest, with as little detail as possible, but I made it clear that I knew my limits and was ready to return to work. Obviously every situation is different. I now work part-time but don’t have children, so am constantly asked why I want to work/do work part-time. Can’t help but think they wouldn’t ask me that if I had kids!

It might be worth starting your search through a recruitment agency and explaining your situation, as they will have the opportunity to chat to the prospective employer about you rather than them just seeing a CV with a gap and dismissing it on that basis.

I hope this is helpful. I also work in HR and recruitment so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate. Best of luck xx

Hi, I was made redundant during chemo (nice!) so had no job to return to either. I started back to work a year after diagnosis doing exam invigilating at my local secondary school. Part time ad hoc work which was a great way to get back.

A while later (June) loads of term time only school jobs came up and I got one in the HR office of a multi academy school trust.

On my application I explained the gap with looking for work after redundancy. In the interview I said that I had personal life changes and took time out to find the right way forward to fit my lifestyle - economical with the truth!

When I was offered the job I came clean, knowing that I had told the truth and they couldn’t legally withdraw the offer.

Yes, we are protected under the disability act but a prospective employer can easily find ways to say you are unsuccessful whilst complying with the law.

Seriously - if you were an employer and had 2 candidates, one with cancer and one without, who would you choose?

It’s hard, but my advice is to be honest but only tell them everything on a need to know basis. I told them as I wanted an hour’s lunch break instead of half hour.


I was also made redundant during my chemo! I was fortunate to get the option of 6 months garden leave so officially I had an extra 6 month period with the company, making my unemployment gap look a bit shorter on my CV.  I had been in IT but to return to a similar job meant commuting a considerable distance unless I was exceptionally lucky to find something local, but after 10 months away from work and having lived in a world of surgeries, treatments, drugs and contintual hospital appointments my confidence was shattered.  I decided to restart my working life by doing some voluntary work at my local hospice. I was doing one day a week in one of their offices and Ioved it. I told them why I was volunteering and about my cancer so I was very open from the start. After a few months they told me about a temporary paid job which was coming up. I decided I had nothing to lose and as they already knew my background it didn’t feel necessary to bring that up at my interview. So I can’t give you any tips about dealing with interviews but I can definitely recommend doing some voluntary work to ease you back into working life and you never know where it can lead!

I’m loving my new fundraising job and am hoping it will become permanent in the future.

Best of luck in your job search :slight_smile:

Vik xxx


Hi, I know exactly how you feel I’ve been off sick from work for 21 months including a phased return that went very badly. I have now got breathlessness and fatigue. But am grateful I’m still here. My work recently this week made me dismissed under capability to do my job. I work in an office. They tried to find other jobs in the company for me to do but they are miles away from my home so no option there!! I went to an interview just before I was dismissed as I know is only be able to do part time work and was fretting what to say myself when they said why do you want to work part time hours. I went silence for a bit then said I had a medical issue it’s sorted now and I’m very flexible to when you need me most. They said they’d be in touch its been 2 weeks now so I’m assuming that was the wrong thing to say… I’m finding it every hard too. Lost…