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Getting Your First Job After Cancer: 5 Questions For Teens To Consider

When a teen finishes cancer treatment, she might be eager to jump right into everything her peers have been doing while she was sick. For some teens, this means thinking about getting that first job.

But even though treatment is over, entering the workforce might still need to be something she approaches with caution. That’s because there are survivorship issues to keep in mind—like lingering effects of treatment and what, if anything, she should tell her boss.

Here are 5 questions for teen cancer survivors to consider when thinking about getting their first job after treatment.

1. Are There Precautions Teens Should Take In Preparing For Their First Job?

The main thing teens will want to keep in mind is that right after treatment has ended, their immune system might not be completely back to normal. So, if they’re looking at a job that involves coming into contact with lots of people, I would suggest being cautious about how quickly they start working.

If they’re not sure how strong their immune system is, the medical team can help gauge that for them. That way, they can figure out the right kind of job and the best start time.

2. How Long After Treatment Should Teens Wait Before Getting Their First Job?

After treatment, it usually takes the immune system about 3 months to get back to normal. The same timeframe applies for any symptoms or side effects that are specifically due to treatment to resolve themselves.

That isn’t to say that teens can’t get their first job sooner, but I generally use the 3-month rule as a benchmark for parents and teenagers.

Of course, it also depends on what the job is. If it involves really physically strenuous activity and they haven’t been exercising at all, I might recommend that they wait a little longer. But if the job mostly involves sitting or doing something less active, they might be able to start sooner.

3. What Precautions Should Teens Take On The Job?

I always encourage kids and teens to practice good hand washing, just like they did during treatment.

They’ll also want to keep an eye on their energy levels, since these might be very different for some teens compared to how it was before they had cancer.

If fatigue is something they’re experiencing, they might need to take more frequent breaks or to work shorter shifts—but it’s very individualized from person to person.

4. Should Teen Cancer Survivors Disclose Anything To Their Bosses?

I don’t know that they would necessarily need to tell their bosses anything unless they needed accommodations of some sort, such as those frequent breaks if they are still struggling with fatigue.

That sort of thing might be worth talking to a boss or someone in human resources about. And it helps to have those types of discussions proactively.

5. Are There Any Laws Protecting Cancer Survivors In The Workplace?

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There are also laws that protect prospective employees from being asked about their medical history, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) explains.

Unless you have a visible disability that an employer believes could impact your ability to do a specific job, he cannot ask you anything beyond whether you are able to perform the job’s requirements before he hires you, the NCCS says.

And while employers can ask questions about your health after you’ve been hired, you are still protected from workplace discrimination based on your medical and genetic history under both federal and state laws, explains the NCCS.

Ultimately, each teen’s situation is pretty unique as far as how treatment impacts his first job experience, but keeping these questions in mind can help him prepare to enter the working world after battling cancer.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jill Beck
I've been an oncologist since 2010. With pediatric oncology, you get continuity of care with families—so you care for children when they're really sick and see them get better.

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