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Careers After Cancer

By: Kate "Miracle" Zickel

As kids we’re told we can do anything, that we can be whatever we want to be. Then as we grow up we realize the world has limitations.

I spent my year in treatment for stage three breast cancer learning that life doesn’t always turn out the way it “should.” I was surrounded by love every minute of my year from hell, but for those of us in this special club, we often crawl out of the labyrinth of our treatment plans feeling confused and disoriented. We slowly rise to our feet and look around, only to realize that the world we once inhabited is no longer recognizable. We’re lost.

For young adults, this can be particularly true when it comes to our careers. 

We learn so much about ourselves because of cancer. Some of us find new meaning in the work we do, but in many cases, we choose to leave and try something completely different. The things that used to matter a year ago don’t matter the way they used to. When it comes to my career, I’ve learned that I care more about what I do than the title or salary that comes with that job. Now the work has to matter. It has to make a difference. As survivors, so many of us have adjusted our priorities. It can be hard for employers and coworkers to understand that.

“All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?” – Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail

Most companies have no idea how to handle the intense changes that cancer brings to a person’s life and are often more concerned about the bottom line than the person standing in front of them. Rather than being patient and understanding, many businesses move on. Some even release us from employment, not realizing our jobs are so much more than just a paycheck. That’s the weird thing about cancer. It shows both sides of humanity in its truest form.

For me, I’m still searching. But I’m learning to take risks, to accept challenges in my life by choice. My recent weeklong First Descents climbing trip in Estes Park, Colorado taught me that I have more to offer the world than I thought. First Descents gave me a week of my life where I really believed I could do anything. In climbing 300 foot rock faces, I found new strength and new confidence in myself that I thought had disappeared forever. I forced myself to keep going when I thought there was no way I could ever reach the top. I learned to quiet the voices of doubt and fear in order to focus on what I really wanted. When you’re out living it, the little things don’t matter.

Coming home, I have brought those new pieces of myself with me. I’ve started my own business and challenged myself to focus on what’s really important. I connect with people in a way I didn’t before. My career looks very different now; it’s still an uphill battle, but it’s one that allows me to explore and try new things.

I’m out living it!

– Miracle

Looking for more helpful resources?  Check out FD’s Participant Resources page to learn more about incredible organizations (like Miracle’s personal recommendation, Cancer and Careers) that support our community.

Kate “Miracle” Zickel was born in Seattle but currently lives in the Washington, DC area. Kate loves roller coasters and the ocean. Her favorite foods include green eggs and ham and chocolate covered grasshoppers. For fun, Kate enjoys reading good stories, drinking all the coffee and doing just about anything outside. She recently completed treatment for stage three breast cancer.

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