Title

The Work Life and Career Development of Young Breast Cancer Survivors

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-2015

Keywords

Breast cancer, Women’s career development, Survivors, Work life

Organizational Units

Morgridge College of Education, Counseling Psychology

Abstract

Breast cancer survivors represent the largest proportion of cancer survivors, and the rate of young breast cancer survivors who are diagnosed before the age of 40 is increasing. Cancer survivorship scholarship has begun to address many aspects of survivors’ quality of life, yet the role of work and career issues have been understudied, particularly for young survivors. To explore the work lives and career development of young breast cancer survivors, this study used consensual qualitative research methodology (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997) to analyze data from qualitative interviews with 13 young women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40. The 4 career-related domains that emerged from the data were (a) cancer-related work challenges, (b) coping with cancer-related work challenges, (c) reappraisal of career development after cancer, and (d) components of career and life satisfaction after cancer. Experiencing breast cancer at a young age was viewed by participants as contributing to an increased desire for work to provide a sense of meaning as well as financial security and insurance. Cancer was further viewed as contributing to lost control over career success and work choices, treatment side effects that interfere with work self-efficacy and capabilities, and interpersonal difficulties connecting within and outside of work. Women with more extensive cancer treatment and side effects reported greater work struggles. Despite this, participants’ cancer narratives were characterized by a range of coping strategies, including reframing and seeking control, and by evidence of persistence, resilience, and hope. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

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