Reconsidering your career

Having cancer at the start of your adult life can change your ideas about careers and work.

It's not easy to plan your future when you're focusing on your day-to-day health and treatment. You may feel that you need to make quick decisions about A level subjects, college courses or applying for apprenticeships.

There's a lot to be gained from taking the opportunity to spend time reflecting and talking things through with others. Many young people who've had cancer talk about gaining new skills and changing their career ambitions during this time.

There are four main areas to think about if you're considering changing direction after having cancer.

Knowing yourself

At school your skills and interests may have centred on your hobbies or school subjects. Through having cancer however, you may have done things you'd never have imagined and gained valuable new skills e.g. the ability to manage stressful situations or build relationships with people.

Some people feel a stronger sense of vocation after having cancer and feel drawn to particular kinds of work.

"Because of dealing with certain issues, I've found that I've got compassion towards people, particularly with working in the care home now. I've got a real empathy towards them because I realise they've got an illness."

Knowing about jobs

You may need information on available opportunities. This includes finding out about different types of work, pay and prospects, the skills needed and any education and training requirements. A good place to research job types is the National Careers Service A-Z of job profiles.

If you have started a degree already it's not too late to change courses. University isn't the only option, apprenticeships and work experience can be a good, direct route to skilled jobs and careers.

Don't assume that your diagnosis automatically means that certain jobs are no longer open to you. Some occupations have fitness requirements but even then you'll usually be fine if you're in remission and well enough to work. A small number of careers have very strict rules, for example the armed forces. However for most young people, cancer should not be a reason to restrict your career choice. Find out more about support and legal rights in work.

Getting careers advice

A professional careers adviser can give you information about jobs, help you sound out your ideas and suggest alternative occupations based on what you've done so far. They can then help you plan practical next steps.

You can use the National Careers Service (England), Skills Development Scotland, Careers Wales and Northern Ireland's government career service. If you're aged 19 or over, you can get face-to-face advice through the National Careers Service. In England you can also get help from your local Information and Advice (IAS) service. IAS services have a duty to provide information and advice to disabled young people up to the age of 25. 

Trying things out

You can use the people and networks around you to refine your ideas on which direction to take. Interacting with doctors, nurses, social workers or other people with cancer can give you new perspectives. If you have a CLIC Sargent care professional, you can also speak with them for help and support.

If you choose to go back into education there'll be opportunities to work with other students and get feedback. Many courses build in the opportunity to develop transferable skills such as problem-solving, presenting, communication skills and teamworking. You can take this further by doing work experience or volunteering to try out your ideas.

Last reviewed: November 2015
Next planned review: December 2016

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