Moving on: Working when you have had cancer

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Read about some points to consider as a cancer survivor entering the workforce, including what you should tell your employer and where to look for career advice.

Key points

  • You do not need to tell your employer or coworkers anything you are not comfortable sharing; you may wish to share your medical history with you boss or human resources department so that they can help set up accomodations if necessary.
  • Speak to your health-care team if you're not sure how your cancer history may have affected your ability to perform a job.
  • You can find information on career advice from career counselling and guidance programs or by searching online.

Thinking about entering the workforce?

Many teen cancer survivors look forward to starting or returning to work. Reasons may include financial independence, access to health insurance, and the feeling of being "back to normal". Starting or returning to work can be exciting! Working offers the opportunity to grow and gain independence, but it can also bring challenges. This section offers some points to consider as a cancer survivor entering the workforce.

What should I tell my employer about my health history?

The information you provide to your employer needs to be truthful. However, you are not required to tell your employer that you have had cancer in the past. You have the right to keep your medical history private. If you do choose to tell your employer your medical history, they can only share it with other staff who require that information for a specific purpose. People who may need to know about your cancer include those who can help set up accommodations, like human resources staff. You will learn more about accommodations in the next section.

Will having cancer affect my ability to work?

Some people may have experienced changes in their physical or cognitive ability, their mood, or their energy levels because of cancer or treatment. These changes do not mean that you are unable to enter the workforce! They may mean that you will need to be choosier about the type of work you do, or that you will need some accommodations in the workplace.

If you are uncertain about how your cancer history may affect your ability to perform in a job, speak with your health-care team. They may be able to provide some guidance or refer you for an assessment that will identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you select the right work environment.

Where can I look for career advice?

In some areas of Canada, career counselling and guidance programs are offered to young people with health issues. Some areas even provide counsellors that work specifically with cancer survivors. These counsellors have special training and experience, so they understand the specific issues—like late effects—that some young cancer survivors deal with. They can help you clarify your career goals and may check in with you to help you stay motivated to achieve them. One program available in Ontario is called SAVTI, and it provides counselling, resources and financial assistance to cancer survivors during the transition from high school to the workforce. Your health-care team may be able to recommend a similar program in your area.

Many high schools also offer career counselling. Check with your guidance department to see what options are available in your area.

For more information about working as a cancer survivor, check out This is an American organization, but much of the information applies to Canadians too.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019