Going On With Life: Women Juggling Cancer And Career. U.S. Employers Rank Last As Source Of Support For Working Women With Cancer

For Shirley Mertz, continuing to work throughout the past 14 years as she battled breast cancer was not only natural but also critical to her well-being.

“After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, continuing to live a normal life was extremely important, and for me, normal meant working,” said Mertz, a former assistant superintendent for a public high school district in suburban Chicago, Ill., who is now 59 and a full-time breast cancer advocate. “I was fortunate enough to have a sympathetic employer and compassionate co-workers, but I had to look outside my office for the support and information I needed to cope with cancer. I never really considered that workplace resources might be an option.”

Mertz’s experience is echoed in the results of a national Harris Interactive survey of working women diagnosed with cancer, which, astonishingly, found that a mere 1 percent of them consider their company a source of information or support in coping with their illness. Although they are generally satisfied with interpersonal support and report an ability to balance the demands of their illness and their careers, many survey participants are in fact suffering treatment-related difficulties on the job, such as fatigue, nausea and hair loss, but are not finding help in workplace programs. The survey was initiated by Cosmetic Executive Women Foundation’s (CEWF) Cancer and Careers program and supported by a grant from Roche.

Carlotta Jacobson, President of CEW, a leading trade organization in the beauty industry, says it’s essential for employers to find ways to anticipate and address the needs of their employees who have cancer.

“Our survey shows that, despite their stoic attitude, women with cancer often struggle with physical, emotional and other issues in the workplace,” said Jacobson. “To address their needs, we’ve developed the Cancer and Careers program, which includes free information, guidance and tools for both employees and their managers.”

Cancer and Careers is an online and offline resource for working women with cancer and their employers. The program’s Web site, cancerandcareers.org, includes more than 100 online articles, downloadable tools, charts and checklists, and a searchable database of 400-plus cancer resources. CEWF also offers the Managing Through Cancer program to help managers, HR professionals and CEOs initiate policy changes, develop supportive ser-vices, and design flexible work arrangements.

CEWF’s survey also revealed that women with cancer need more than just workplace support to help them address the challenges they face on the job. Nearly three-fourths of women surveyed expressed a desire for a less intrusive treatment to a working woman’s lifestyle. Citing convenience and fewer side effects as rationale, 86 percent of women said they would prefer an oral chemotherapy treatment to intravenous administration.

“Because I took an oral chemotherapy pill instead of going to the clinic all the time for IV treatment, I missed fewer days of work and felt more like myself,” said Mertz. “I also didn’t have any hair loss, which helped me to maintain my self-esteem.”

A Career Built On Character

“Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.” ~Elmer G. Letterman

“The best job goes to the person who can get the job done without coming up with excuses or passing the buck” ~Napolean Hill

What About Politics?

Political Astuteness is something that you may not learn in school; however, it plays a significant role in success in business.

“Man is by nature a political animal.” ~Aristotle

Take Control
It’s important to keep in mind that you are responsible for your own career. Don’t Expect the Human Resources Department to plan your career. In fact, don’t expect anyone else to be concerned about it either.

There have been times in my career when someone has taken an interest in my promotion; however, it has always been in their own best interests to do so. Remember, companies are in business primarily to make money.

Dress for success
There is a clear distinction between how a President, a Senior Vice-President, a Vice-President, and District Manager dress. You should dress just a cut above your current level.

Above Everything, Have Integrity

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~Alan Simpson

You will find that the concentration of integrity increases the higher you go in an organization.

Remember Who You Work For

Always Support the Company
It’s true that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. There will be ample opportunities on a daily basis to bash your employer. Resist those opportunities. Keep in mind that (1) you chose this company, (2) they pay you, and (3) you can leave if you want. The leaders of the company will not be impressed by your ability to complain.

Make Your Boss and Your Boss’s Boss Look Good
As a practical matter, you are most likely working to take your boss’s job. Hopefully, your boss will be promoted, which will leave a vacancy. If your boss is not going anywhere, then the next level will have a major impact on your next position.

Who are the Leaders of the Company?
Find out the background of the company executives. What career path did they take? Chances are, they will value those credentials above others. Take note of great people in the company and get connected to them. If possible, find a way to work for them. If not, establish a network with as many of them as possible. The best possibility is to ask one of them be your mentor. You will be surprised how many people will be interested in helping in this regard.

Learn the Rules

“Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” ~Spanish Proverb

Watch What You Write or Say. Assume that anything you write or say will be read or heard by everyone in the company. E-mail makes it easy to respond emotionally. Before you respond to an irritating e-mail, take a minute to calm down, then, write the e-mail. If you have a tendency to send harsh messages, save a draft and review it sometime later to ensure the tone is business appropriate.

A corollary to this principle is Happy Hour – don’t go! There is a huge risk of saying something you shouldn’t say, getting out of control, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You should stay out of office politics. Don’t say anything bad about anyone, ever.

Arrive Early and Leave Late, but Not Too Late. You want the reputation of a hard worker, but not one that can’t get their work done. This principle also applies to taking work home. Over the long-term, you want to have a life outside of work. Maintaining a work/life balance will keep you engaged in your job; therefore, more productive.

Find Out What Your Boss Wants and Deliver. Regardless of your personality, relationships, or good looks, you must be productive. For your boss, it means doing what they want, no matter how silly it may seem to you. For example, I had a boss that wanted to know how many Dairy Queens between Dallas and Houston served a particular yogurt.

Always say, “Yes!” to a request from leadership. For your boss, there are ways to provide better solutions without damaging the relationship.

“Always do more than is required of you.” ~General Patton

Give People Credit. Don’t take credit for yourself. This is important for a variety of reasons. First, you need people to help you get things done. Second, when people recognize people who work for you, you get the credit as well. Third, it’s the right thing to do.


When It Comes to Your Career

1. You’re Responsible

2. Remember Who You Work For

3. Learn the Rules

As Bill Karnes put it, “Eagles don’t flock; they fly alone. And eagles soar above the rest of their world. So, too, do people who start things, who lead groups or who otherwise set themselves apart from the crowd.”