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.”

Career – Are You Facing Burnout?

Chronic stress over a period of time may make you feel totally helpless and unable to cope up with demands of life. This can cause burn out. When in a job, you feel that you are overburdened, and under appreciated, that the demands of the job are increasing and despite all your efforts you are not able to manage the work and get blames for not performing, stress becomes chronic and one loses interest in work and many other activities in life. This is burn out. Absolute helplessness is experienced during burn out and one finds that one can simply not continue.

Burn out can not only cause mental problems such as depression but also affect you physically. Body slowly gives in under the stress and this creates a vicious circle. What can be done if you are facing burn out? First of all, one must know that one is facing burn out. Constant irritation, depression, feelings of helplessness etc. can give a hint to what is happening. Along with that body may give signs such as headache, fatigue etc. Consult a medical professional about your body symptoms and discuss about burn out. once you know that you are facing burn out, it become easier to fight it.

The first need is to preserve yourself. If the job demand does not reduce, talk to your superiors about that. Reduce work load and redesign goals so that stress reduces. Begin socializing more and relax as much as possible. Begin going in natural surroundings and talk with friends and colleagues about your situation. Their togetherness in this condition will be vital to fight burn out.

Sometimes, we find it difficult to say no, and keep taking more responsibilities because we don’t want to make any body feel bad. In the process, we develop frustration and despite all our effort are not able to satisfy anyone. This causes more irritation and stress, and ultimately one begins feeling hopeless about everything. Unappreciated and misunderstood. If you are such a kind of person, watch for the signs of burn out carefully.

Career – Are You In The Right Seat?

We all have a chair that designates a position in our career. For most of us the position, the responsibilities, the growth prospects and many such factors decide if we are happy in our seat? Sometimes, we may be unaware that another seat may send us much higher in the hierarchy and satisfaction level. Sometimes we are frustrated with our job for no easily identifiable reason. There are many such factors that determine if we are on the right seat. Let us examine some of them.


How involved we are with what we do? Are we so engrossed with our job, that we have no time to think of anything else? Or we are so less connected with our job that having it or not makes no difference to us? Albert Einstein, the great scientist was so involved with his job of thinking and finding solutions to mysteries of physics and cosmos that he had no time left for anything else. His involvement was total. Do you have such an involvement?


Do we feel joy in what we do? I have taken this right near the top, because if we are dissatisfied for any reason, we will never get joy. If we get joy then most of things are going in the right direction. So think if you are getting joy in your job?


If you are working with the right people and doing the right job, you will always get the respect of your colleagues. If the respect is missing, please take that as a red signal telling you that something might be amiss.


Do you find your skills and aptitude matching the job requirements? You might be made for greater things in life. Please get your skills assessed and find out if you are wasting time with a low skilled job, when you should have been working with something requiring great skills and abilities.

There are other factors such as vision for the job, future growth potential, learning opportunities and such other factors that decide if you are on the right seat. The right person for the right job – are you the right person for your job and more importantly, is the job right for you?

I have given some pointers for thought. Ultimately, it is your life goals and values that will always decide if the job fits you. That can be done only by you. What is most important is that you review your job and your satisfaction level at frequent intervals and bring changes to create a more meaningful life. So find out today if you are in the right seat in your career.