Picking a School
It's important to pick a school - be it a vocational/technical school or university - that will be a good fit for you and meet your needs. This may especially be the case for survivors with physical or learning disabilities or survivors who have been recently diagnosed. You're trying to lead as normal a life as possible after your diagnosis and treatment.
There are many things to consider when choosing a school such as course offerings, location, size and the types of campus services available to students.
College Application Essays
Survivors may ask themselves, "Should I talk about my cancer experience in my application essay?" You may be afraid that writing about it would be a disadvantage. You may just want to leave your cancer experience behind you. Yet you may see the essay as an opportunity to talk about your life and what sets you apart from other applicants. There is no correct answer, so you should do what is most comfortable for you.
Whether preparing for college or already enrolled, make an appointment with a guidance or career counselor or your school's office of disabilities to be tested for a learning or physical disability, such as a hearing impairment. If you already know that you have one, discuss it with teachers or professors and come up with an accommodation plan that will be conducive to your learning style. Be prepared to take the initiative on making the most of your education.
Make sure that if you need extra time or a special environment for taking exams that you have letters or other documents from your doctor, nurse practitioner or professional evaluator so that you can show them to your professors. Having supporting documents in hand will make the process of asking your professors to accommodate you much smoother.
Also be aware of your capabilities and limitations. If a 15-credit semester is too stressful to manage, think about taking one less class. Try to create a schedule that is well balanced and manageable. Don't be afraid to have a mix of different classes that will meet core requirements or are electives.
*from Beyond the Cure's The Mountain You Have Climbed resource guide (Order your full copy of the full publication here)
Although state vocational rehabilitation offices work primarily toward getting people employed, these offices are also very essential in the college process.
If you qualify for vocational rehabilitation, your vocational rehabilitation counselor will review your educational plans in terms of job potential. This will help guarantee that the field that you are choosing is a match for your talents and strengths.
if you qualify for a vocational rehabilitation, under the amended Rehabilitation Act, you must apply for financial aid. Working with your college's financial aid office and the vocational rehabilitation office makes this a lengthy and time-consuming process. Contact both offices early in your college application process.
Photo Credit: mudpig (Flickr)
Searching for the Right Job
When you begin your job hunt, consider positions that are a good fit for you. Be aware of the essential responsibilities and determine if you are capable of completing such tasks. Consider factors such as working for a large corporation or organization, a smaller employer or an industry where you may be able to use your cancer experience to help others.
You may also want to factor in what an employer offers in terms of benefits packages such as health insurance, life insurance, flextime, paid leave, sick days, etc.
Job Interviews: To Tell or Not to Tell
Survivors ask whether or not they should tell potential employers about their cancer history especially if they've been off treatment for a relatively short time.
Many people recommend that you do not volunteer information about your health history, including your cancer diagnosis, unless it directly affects your qualifications or ability to perform essential functions for that position. You should be able to talk about your work-relevant skills and experience without including the fact that you were treated for cancer.
An employer has the right to know only that you can perform the essential duties of the job. An employer does not have the right to ask about personal or confidential information during an interview. If a potential employer does ask an illegal question during the interview, try to turn the question into something that applies specifically to the job. Some experts suggest working with a job counselor to learn how to deal with situations like this and answer interview questions such as: "Why is there a time gap between jobs?"
As always, never lie or embellish on job applications or applications for health, life, or disability insurance.
Dealing with Discrimination in the Workplace
Although cancer does not carry the same stigma as it once did, survivors today may still have to deal with discrimination against them at work. Federal laws and most state laws prohibit employers from treating cancer survivors differently from other workers. In order for the law to apply to you, you must be qualified for the job and be able to perform its essential duties.
If you think you are being discriminated against, be sure to document such instances. Seek guidance from outside experts like a social worker from your long-term follow-up clinic who may be familiar with these situations. Talk to someone you trust in your human resources department and try to come up with some type of resolution with your employer. Legal action is always the last solution.
For more information on employment challenges, click the image below to check out the PDF of a PowerPoint presentation given on this subject at CCCA's 2008 Rise to Action conference in DC.
Some cancer survivors are concerned that their medical history may hurt their educational or employment opportunities. There are laws intended to prevent discrimination based on a student's or worker's health problems.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
ADA also prohibits employers from asking questions about your medical history. Employers can only ask medical history questions once a job has been offered. It also requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations," such as flextime or allowing an employee to take time off for treatment.
For more information on ADA as it applies to employment issues, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website at www.eeoc.gov.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
FMLA allows people to take up to 12 months of unpaid leave if they need to attend to their own medical needs or the needs of immediate family members. But you must work for an employer who has more than 50 employees. You also must meet other requirements, such as working a minimum number of hours a week for at least one year. When your leave is over, employers are required to restore you to the same position and to provide benefits, including health insurance, during your leave.
Under FMLA, employers are also required to make "reasonable efforts" to accommodate your medical care schedule as long as it does not cause major disruption to the organization. The law requires employees to give their employer at least 30 days notice of "foreseeable" medical leave or as much notice as is practicable.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973