fielding a job offer when you might be facing a serious health diagnosis

A reader writes:

I’ve been interviewing for a job and it appears likely they will make an offer this week or early next week. At the same time, I’ve been dealing with a health issue that is most likely nothing, but I’ve just learned that there is a small chance it could be cancer, and I need to go for further tests. The soonest I can have the test is five days from now, then have to wait for the results. It’s also possible that that test won’t work and I have to go for another procedure in order to get an answer.

I don’t know what to do about accepting the offer! How long can I put them off? I don’t think I can start a new job if this small possibility turns out to be real and I need treatment. I am comfortable and have a great support system at my current job–am just wanting to leave for career advancement and more money. If I am sick, it would be best to just stay at my current job and take all the leave and benefits I’m entitled to here, with lots of good support from colleagues. But chances are, I’m not sick, and don’t want to give up a great job opportunity.

They just asked for my references and I’m trying to stall a bit, hoping that it takes a few more days to get the offer, and then perhaps I can ask for a couple days to think it over, and maybe by then it will be more clear what my situation is. But if I have to go for further tests, I don’t think I can drag it out that long.

Ugh, this is a tough situation.

If they’re like many employers, this stage of their process will take longer than you’d think, so you might end up having your test results back before they come to you with an offer. But of course, you can’t count on that and so it’s smart to be prepared.

I think you can ask for a week to think it over — saying something like, “I’m extremely interested and eager to accept, but I need to work out some logistics on this end before I can give you a definite yes.” Or even be more pointed about it: “I’m almost certainly going to say yes, but I need to work out some logistics on my end before I can make that official.”

If it looks like you’ll need more time than that, though, then your best option might be to be somewhat candid without actually sharing the details. For instance, you could say, “I’m eager to accept this position, but I want to be fair to you. I’m waiting to get some medical news. It’s likely that everything is fine, but there’s a small chance that I might need treatment that would divide my focus in a way that I wouldn’t want at a new job, I’m hoping you can give me a little bit of time to find out for sure. If the news is good, I’d love to accept your offer. If it’s not, I wouldn’t want to put either of us in that position.”

This isn’t ideal, but I think it’s the best of not-great options. Otherwise you risk turning down a job when you don’t need to, or accepting it and finding out later that it would have been better to stay at your old job.

Good luck — and I hope you get good news.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Good luck on your tests! And given how delayed hiring processes can get even the best of time, I think it’s quite likely that the winter will slow them down enough for you to be cleared before they get back to you.

  2. cuppa*

    OP, I’m very sorry to hear this and I hope everything works out. Although I fortunately did not have to deal with this on the job side, I did have a similar situation happen to me with the potential cancer thing, and although I don’t know anything about your specific situation, I thought sharing a similar experience might be helpful.
    A few years ago, I had a symptom that, like yours, could be a lot of things, was most likely something easily treatable, but had a small chance of indicating breast cancer. I had to get a diagnostic mammogram, which came back negative, but then they said they wanted to do an ultrasound. That was also negative. Then they said they wanted to do a different mammogram, which was also negative, and then I ended up having a surgical biopsy anyway (which was negative). However, even if I did have cancer, it was so early and small that the biopsy would have removed the issue and it was not likely for me to have needed additional treatment, just more rigorous screening in the future.
    I also had a relative with a similar experience, but she had a spot on a PET scan. She also ended up having a biopsy, although her surgery was much more invasive and took a longer recovery time. Her results were also negative, but similarly if they had been positive, the surgery would have removed the problem.
    I hope that whatever your results are, it is minimally disruptive to your new opportunity. Good luck!

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I had the exact same thing (diagnostic mammo, ultrasound, biopsy, all negative). I was only 28, so that seemed like the likely outcome. I’ve had two other “scares” since then, one which included surgery for another benign lump. It can be very stressful & take a long time to go through the dx process. (A year after my first incident my cousin was dx’d with lymphoma, so you can’t be too careful, even when you’re young. She’s 5 years cancer-free now.)

      OP, wishing you well on your health & job search.

      1. cuppa*

        Yes! It does take a while to go through the process. I think mine was 4-5 months all together. I also will say that when I got to the surgery stage, my doctor said, “we need to do the surgery, but not today”. I was able to be slightly flexible with my scheduling, and maybe you will have the same experience and be able to work everything out between both your doctors and your job.

        1. Ms Enthusiasm*

          Thought I would share my own story… I had a Pap Smear come back with bad results in November 2004 (trying to give a timeline). In December 2004 the doctor did a biopsy of my cervix which also returned “bad” results. In January 2005 the doctor did what is called a Cone Biopsy of my cervix which is removing a larger, cone shaped piece of it. Recovery time was basically the weekend but there were other side effects from that surgery that lasted about 6 weeks (don’t want to give too much graphic info). After that I had to have pap smears every 3 months for a year but I was fine. I’ve even had 2 kids since then. Alternatively, if things would have gone down the worse path, I would have ended up with full blown cervical cancer (instead of just “pre-cancer”) and would have needed a hysterectomy and possibly chemo.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I’ve had the scary pap result thing too – apparently it’s actually quite common, which I found out after I told a few friends my story and more than one of them had had the same thing happen. But people just don’t really talk about it, so now I take any opportunity to tell the story in the hope that it will take the edge off the anxiety for anyone who might get a scary test result in the future.

            I didn’t have to do the cone biopsy, thankfully – the first biopsy was clear, and all subsequent pap tests have been fine too. But it was scary, especially as I’d just got engaged – we went ring shopping right after the biopsy! – and the wait for the biopsy results was not fun at all. I’m glad your situation resolved without the need for chemo and major surgery! My friend’s sister went through that in her early 20s and it was horrible, although fortunately she’s fine now.

          2. HAnon*

            I had that happen to me as well. I have a family history of cancer on both sides (BRCA gene runs in the family and a few female family members have had cancer more than once) so I have always been hyper vigilant about self testing and keeping regular doctor’s appointments. I got tested for the BRCA gene a few years ago and got the negative result on my birthday :) I cried when I found out, it was the best birthday present ever.

            All that to say, when I got an inconclusive result from my pap and had to have the biopsy done, it was freaky and no fun at all (yes side effects were not enjoyable). But I’ve learned, and this thread seems to be confirming, that it’s pretty common to get that result and if you monitor it there is usually nothing to fear. A couple of years later the virus doesn’t even show up in my system anymore when I go for my yearly gyno exam, which is awesome :)

            Also, I think they usually move very quickly on that sort of thing (scheduling biopsy) because there’s only a teeny tiny chance that it’s actually cancerous, but if it is they want to give you the best possible outcome by addressing it fast and nipping in the bud…survival rates are so much higher when you catch it really early on.

          3. Mel*

            I know this is a month late, but I also had the pap results come back with bad results. I had no idea how common HPV was until this happened to me. They did a biopsy which showed worse results than expected (both vaginal and cervical dysplasia- which is essentially pre-cancer) and they said I needed immediate surgery. I was only 22 yrs old! Add on top of that that I was in the process of moving to another state that was a 15 hour drive away and I was terrified. I had to find a GYN that could do the surgery without ever have seen me before. I went in and they did a pre-op visit to confirm the information and scheduled the surgery for the next week. They did the laser removal, but it took a few weeks to be allowed to fully return to normal which meant I couldn’t unpack or anything. Then I had to go back for Paps every 3 months. One came out bad again, but the next ones were clear. After a year or so I was able to start going every 6 months and now I’m back to yearly. It’s crazy that so young something so potentially life changing can happen. Even now I know that the dysplasia can return at any time, but I refuse to live my life in fear.
            It’s so comforting to hear that others have gone through this type of thing successfully and I wish the best for the OP!

      2. Mimmy*

        I went through a nearly-identical process you did (minus the mammo). I knew that in all likelihood, the lump I had was benign (turned out to be a cyst), but the long process and having that sliver of a chance of it going badly was enough to rattle me a bit.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had something similar a couple of years ago — my grandmother had breast cancer so I decided I wanted a mammogram even though at the time I wasn’t 40 (the recommended age) yet. The mammogram was questionable enough that they wanted to do an ultrasound, which still didn’t clear me so they did a biopsy. (I was fine.) The entire thing was terrifying (I tend to a be worst-case-scenario thinker) but after a scary few weeks all was okay.

      (Since then I’ve done a lot of reading on mammograms, and there’s a pretty compelling school of thought that they’re overused and lead to lots of unnecessary scares and even cancer treatments that aren’t actually needed. I’m not taking a stance on that debate since I’m far from knowledgeable enough, but I found it pretty interesting.)

      Sorry, OP, I’m totally derailing here!

      1. cuppa*

        The scariest part for me was that they kept saying “It’s probably nothing, but we need to get you a [test] right away. If they squeeze you in tomorrow morning, can you go?” It was like words were conveying nothing, and the actions were conveying seriousness. I’d get the results back negative, and then they’d want another test, just to have the same result at the end (minor surgery).
        And also not to derail (even though I am), but studies are looking at the type of cancer that I would have had (DCIS) and trying to figure out if it is even worth treating at the outset, or if it is better off monitoring because it is typically slow growing and non-invasive.

      2. PEBCAK*

        I had a bad pap smear that led to a bunch of follow-up testing, and there’s similar debates on how often they should really be done and how often one bad pap should be followed up with “wait and see in six months.” Cervical cancer is typically very treatable, but it does not quiet that tiny voice in the back of your head that latches on to that C-word.

        1. A Non*

          Yeah, it’s difficult – we can look at the statistics and say that aggressively treating the early stages of some types of cancers has a statistically worse outcome than a wait-and-see approach. But when it comes to any individual case… get it out, get it out NOW! Hopefully the current research will lessen the conundrum.

        2. Anonymous for this*

          I know what you mean. I’m glad that I have an annual checkup coming up (which includes a pap smear) because after not having my period for 1.5 years (and thinking I was through with it due to menopause), I got my period. I talked to the doctor about it over the phone, and it seems that I’m probably fine (fingers crossed), but that’s quite a gap, so my first thoughts were, “What the hell!?” and “I hope I don’t have cancer.” (I was in REI preparing to try on long-john bottoms – scrapped that plan and went to find a restroom! I had to buy “supplies” because I had given them all away. It was so weird.)

            1. Not at All*

              No – not TMI. Thanks for sharing. I like to remain informed. Hopefully, it helped others, also.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            This happened to someone I know. It turned out she had fibroids that needed to be removed. It was fine, and she’s fine now, but she was really scared for a while. I’m wishing you the best of luck—I hope your issue resolves as easily as hers did (or more so).

      3. Anonsie*

        I have a lot of feelings about mammography for the reasons you mention here. We really seem to have enough reliable evidence now that doing ultrasounds first round is probably a switch that needs to be made across the board, but realistically nothing happens that fast. They joke around the field here (medical research) that it takes 10 years after you have sufficient evidence for anything to become a clinical practice, and that’s assuming people don’t find it controversial in the first place.

      4. Cath in Canada*

        The best non-technical article I’ve read recently about cancer screening is this one:

        As with anything else though, it depends on your personal circumstances. If you have a known increased risk, e.g. due to family history or a genetic test result, early screening is still strongly recommended. (e.g. due to my colouring and medical history my biggest risk is skin cancer, so I go for regular check-ups. I’ve had a couple of moles removed, with the biopsy results saying that they were at an early stage of changing). The story for the general population is much more complicated, and depends on the cancer type, the characteristics of the specific test, the treatment options available (e.g. mole removal is a trivial procedure, so you might as well do it as not; breast lump removal is much more invasive and should be done only when there’s a genuine cause for concern), and other factors.

        There’s no doubt that population screening both catches some cases early enough to affect the outcome, and catches some cases that would never have posed a real threat but that end up being treated anyway, with all the financial and side-effect implications that carries. As always, if in doubt, ask your doctor :)

  3. SJP*

    OP I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this.

    As per Alisons answers, she gives another set of spot on examples.
    Personally I’d choose the second option to be a bit candid and not too up front with them. But as per someone writing in the other day they took a week to think it over and then fluffed it and they’re no longer interested.

    Alisons answers were good for the first example but you don’t want to give the impression that you’re on the fence because you are keen you want to job but that all depends on the results.

    So maybe tell them a bit to make sure you clarify but not enough that you fully disclose anything you don’t want to…

    Anyone else’s thoughts?

    1. A Non*

      I’d err on the side of not saying anything until it’s necessary. As Alison pointed out, a lot of companies will take longer than you expect during this stage of the process, and asking for a week to think it over is very normal. Wait until there’s actually a conflict before saying anything about problems.

      OP – when my mother had breast cancer the “she might have cancer” stage was way more nerve wracking than “she has cancer, here’s the treatment plan”. Hang in there, you’ll make it. And good luck.

  4. KimmieSue*

    Just chiming in to show my support. My hope for you is a positive outcome on all fronts.

    I agree with Alison’s first point – the process of making an offer decision and the offer itself typically takes longer than five days. I think it’s completely reasonable to ask a potential employer for 5-7 days to consider the offer itself.
    Good luck!

  5. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    Usually when I read posts on AAM, I can almost always come up with an answer before reading Allison’s. This one I was stumped on. But Allison gave perfect advice. Thank goodness she’s the one giving advice and not me!

    Wishing you the best, OP!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I initially was stumped too and had a total “oh shit” moment trying to decide what to advise. (But now I feel confident about it — don’t let my original uncertainty worry you, OP!)

      1. Mabel*

        And that is why you are the expert! And we’re all really grateful for your wonderful advice, even when you have to think about it for a minute.

  6. HR Manager*

    So sorry, OP – I hope everything turns out in your favor. Generally, I would say manage and make a decision that will be best for you (not your employer) though of course your consideration is very thoughtful and worthy of admiration.

    Things to consider – whether you get the test results back before or after an official offer in hand:

    1) Would managing your health require significant time off (some cancers may have a lighter course of treatment vs others)? Even if unpaid, FMLA is required and available if the employee is in a company of at least 50 employees under federal guidelines. Will this be important to you? And if it’s offered, normally employees need to have worked 12 months or at least 1250 hours. Changing jobs resets the clock on this for your new employer.

    2) STD (short-term disability) benefits may have a tenure component to getting maximum benefits. Will the new job offer something that works for you?

    3) Any waiting period before medical benefits kick in? Relative costs to current job’s benefits?

    4) Any other time off or flexibility considerations. Do they have a practice of allowing work-from home in case treatment makes commuting in difficult?

    All of these make moving during a time of flux very difficult, so I hope this doesn’t come across as discouraging you from doing what you think is best, but they can make all the difference in a recovery period if you find yourself having to manage through a tough health issue. Good luck! I think a due diligence time period is appropriate for any offer, even if a dream job, so I would take the time to weigh all options before disclosing anything.

    1. A Reader*

      I totally agree with this playing a big part in the decision to change jobs. To this point, I think being slightly candid with the new employer might make sense as Allison indicated in her second point.

      Wishing you the best.

    2. Anonsie*

      All of this. There are a lot of things to take into account here that, you know, may never ever be needed, but these are all things you have to make sure are arranged before you need them.

    3. Mabel*

      HR Manager’s comment reminds me that I always ask about benefits before I accept a job offer, and it can take a couple of days, so perhaps that can account for a few of the days you’re asking them to give you before you decide (if you decide to start with minimal disclosure). And you may get some of the questions that HR Manager mentions answered.

    4. sjw*

      Totally agree with this. If FMLA is at play with your current employer, it’s really comforting to have that security in place. You wouldn’t have that with a new job. At least now with health care reform there’s no waiting periods for pre-ex conditions, but changing insurance in the midst of a serious health condition — with a possible lapse in coverage — would be tough.

  7. Case of the Mondays*

    I would wait for an offer but I really like the second candid response once you get to that stage. It would be in both your and their best interest for you to stay at your current job if that is the case so they will likely appreciate the heads up. If things turn out fine they know you have a clean bill of health and they will be happy to still take you on.

    If you don’t want say medical issues (suggesting that you had problems even if they weren’t serious) you could say something like a wonky test result at my last physical that could be a fluke or could be serious. If it is a fluke, I’m all yours, if it is serious, it would be best for both of us if I stay here. I’ll know in x weeks, could you give me that?

    Wishing you the best!

  8. majigail*

    OP, I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this.
    I have a bit of different perspective. I think that this is one of the rare cases that I’d be ok with a candidate accepting and even working a little bit and then backing out. I’m thinking this specifically since you mention that there’s only a small chance it is cancer. I’d hate to have to start out on a foot that feels medically delicate with an employer only to be totally fine within a month.
    I hope the whole situation turns out for the best.

    1. Kyrielle*

      The problem is, starting, working, and then backing out would leave the OP with no job…no long term disability benefits…no all sorts of things. There’s a huge advantage to the OP to staying at the old job if it *does* turn out to be cancer, based on this letter.

      1. majigail*

        Good point, I was thinking OP was currently unemployed, then there’s really nothing to lose. However, yes, stall if you’re currently employed and Alison’s responses are perfect in that case.

  9. Not So NewReader*

    I hope everything works out well with your health and your employment, OP. If you want to, write back and let us know how it goes for you.
    Sending good vibes your way!

  10. INTP*

    I’m so sorry, OP. That is rough.

    I would be hesitant about disclosing that it is your own personal health issue, though. While unfair, it’s possible that an employer may hear this and think, “Even if this issue is not serious enough for the person to need to stay at their old company, does this mean that this person does have serious symptoms that might affect their work?” The process tends to drag out longer than companies predict so hopefully you will know before having to make any decisions. If you do need to explain, though, maybe you could say that there is a possible illness in your family that might require your FMLA/insurance/whatever. It explains the situation without casting doubts on you. (I would probably accept and then try to negotiate a starting date 4+ weeks away, and notify them ASAP if I can’t take the job, but I understand if some people would feel uncomfortable with that or consider it unethical.)

  11. Lucy*

    Just wanted to recommend the nonprofit Cancer and Careers- they are a great resource.

    Wishing you all the best, OP!

  12. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I had a former co-worker in your exact situation a year or so ago. If I remember correctly, he’d already given notice before he got the news that his diagnosis was, in fact, cancer.

    He was completely honest with both employers. I believe we backed up his termination date by a month or so to help with the cost of his medical insurance and then he transitioned to COBRA right after his surgery to allow for continuity of insurance. The new company he was going to delayed his start date until after his recovery and he started part-time and then moved to full-time when he was physically able.

    I wish you the best of luck, OP.

  13. Formica Dinette*

    OP, I’m hoping for the best possible outcomes for you on both the health front and the job front!

  14. OP*

    OP here. Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughtful feedback. Some of the “scare” scenarios described here are very similar to my story. A conversation with my dr today indicated that he thinks the odds are incredibly high it is NOT cancer. He actually urged me to take the job. But I really love Alison’s advice, because I just don’t want to take that miniscule chance. New job told me they hoped to make a decision this week, but one of my references said he has not been contacted yet. So maybe it will all work out time-wise.

    Just to give a shout-out to Alison, I actually just sent this question yesterday–and she e-mailed me personally with the response last night. I was very grateful and it actually eased my mind quite a bit knowing I have this “script” I can use if I need to.

    And yes, to clarify, I am currently employed, and would absolutely stay put if I did get a diagnosis. My spouse & kids are covered by my insurance too.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Given that your doctor is so confident, can you talk to him about the possibility of skipping intermediate tests? For instance, in Alison’s scenario above, she went from mammogram->ultrasound->biopsy. If the results of this test are more tests, I’d ask what would happen if THOSE tests are positive and whether it makes sense to do the intermediate tests? Obviously, you probably don’t want to go for something extremely drastic like uncertain mammogram directly to full double mastectomy – but it seems like a lot of the intermediate tests are done to avoid a moderately invasive procedure, only the procedure winds up being done anyway so much of the time.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Oh, and with the “soonest you can have the test is 5 days from now” aspect of it – can you call and ask to be put on a cancellation list? Or ask if there are any available sooner appointments at a different office that might be a farther drive? Does your doctor know they are making you wait 5 days? When my doctor wanted me to get a test done ASAP and I was put off on the schedule, he was able to make a call and explain the seriousness and get me bumped up to first on the cancellation list.

        1. Anonsie*

          It’s worth asking, for sure, but also don’t be surprised if 5 days is really as fast as you can get in. From my own experiences, I thought five days was surprisingly quick. The schedules for things like this are often totally solid and not moving at all, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room in most cases unless you are extremely high priority.

      2. cuppa*

        This is a good point — in my experience, I had the surgery anyway, even though all my tests were negative. Also, OP, can you talk to your doctor about what treatment might look like if the worst happens? I know that this isn’t possible for every scenario due to staging, etc. , but in my case, surgery was minor, I actually did it on a holiday, and I only needed to be out one day after, so I actually ended up only missing one day of work (plus an hour here and there for a test). On the other hand, my relative needed to be out for 4-6 weeks for her surgery. It might help you with your decision even though the outcome is still uncertain. Good luck!

        1. OP*

          Thanks for the great suggestions–they don’t apply in my case, but I appreciate it. Sorry, I don’t want to get into the gory details (they aren’t gory actually, but still) but pretty much it has to be done the way it’s being done.

    2. Kay*

      Hi OP,

      At my ex-Job this happened to a hire once. He ended up with a health issue and had to turn down the offer after he had accepted. My boss kept him in mind, and when another opening came up, contacted him to see if he had resolved the health issue and brought him on board. I can’t tell you how it turned out because he was brought on board after I gave my notice, but it is possible that all won’t be lost even if you can’t accept this particular offer.

  15. Ed*

    Personally, I think asking for a full week to think about it could easily be taken as OP is waiting for another offer to come in or is simply undecided. If you eliminate the medical component, would everyone here say asking for a full week to consider a job you supposedly really want is a smart move? I seem to remember most job advice I’ve read (usually in response to people who are trying to stall while waiting for another offer) says asking for more than a day or two is pushing your luck.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s why I think you need to be explicit about the fact that you’re planning to accept the offer but need to handle some stuff on your end first before you can confidently commit. Or even cite the medical stuff at that point if you’re hearing hesitation/unhappiness from them. If they don’t get it at that point, that’s pretty valuable info about what they’d be like to work for!

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Yes, this is why I think frankness is the best policy. They may not be able to hold the job for OP, but no reasonable human being would hold it against OP if she says, “I just found out I need to have something checked out health-wise, and as much as I want to work for you, if it turns out to be something serious I’ll need to stay put.” I like the suggestion someone made above to say “if it’s nothing, I’m all yours — can you give me X amount of time to know the answer?”

        And then, if OP ends up staying but wants to apply to that employer in the future, she doesn’t have “flaky” or “not that into our company” written next to her name in a file.

  16. OP*

    Oh, and regarding INTP’s suggestion to ask for a start date more than 4 weeks away and then pull out if needed, I have considered doing that, and not giving notice at my current job until I know the results. But it sits badly with me in many ways. I like my current place of employment a lot, have been here for quite a while, and would like to give more than 2 weeks notice if I can. I also know how crappy it would be to the other employer to accept and then pull out. That’s why Alison’s advice seemed right to me–but definitely I did consider this other option. I’m curious if others (including Alison) think it’s also a viable possibility. My gut says its not the best, but it does save me from having to disclose anything if I don’t have to. (Though I would ultimately tell new job the reason if I did pull out, as my field is small and I don’t want them to think I’m a jerk).

    1. A Non*

      I think it’s viable, but I like Alison’s suggestion better. The less deception involved the better for everyone. It does require some degree of trust, so I understand if people felt like it wasn’t an option for them. Plus, if the new job is flexible enough to give you a start date more than a month out, they’re probably also flexible enough to wait for you to get test results. You’d be giving them a provisional yes, not a “well maybe”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d only do that if you were totally backed into a corner with no other options, but that’s not the case here (since you could just explain the situation using the type of language I suggested in the post). So while I can see the temptation, I think it’s much more ethical — and likely better for you in practical terms, too — to just be candid with them.

  17. Mike B.*

    One thing that you should keep in mind (above and beyond the excellent advice above): this may be a great opportunity, but it’s certainly not the last such opportunity you’re going to have. If it were to disappear in the time it takes for you to get your probably-good news, it would be quite a disappointment–what awful timing!–but barely a bump in the course of your career.

    Best of luck!

  18. Student*

    OP, please make sure you carefully weigh your options here, and talk with your doctor more about what a cancer diagnosis would really mean in terms of impact to you and treatment timeline. Cancers can vary a lot, and holding off on a new job makes a lot of sense for some cancers and is probably unnecessary for other cancers.

    Some medical treatments take a very long time to get going. Some medical interventions need to happen immediately. Depending on the cancer type and severity, you may find that your doctor doesn’t think it is an urgent problem and you could voluntarily delay treatment for 6 months to settle into a new job before you start undergoing treatments that might impact your work. Many cancers take years or even decades to grow before they become a serious health issue. Many cancers have early stages where they are pretty much harmless, and late stages where they are difficult or impossible to eradicate. Some cancers also have relatively low-impact treatments, like surgical removal, while others require many repetitions of chemotherapy.

    Doctors can also take a very long time to make a diagnosis, and they usually aren’t very upfront about uncertainties in the diagnosis. If the doctor hasn’t decided whether it’s cancer in another month, or in another three months, will you hold off on job-hunting? What if he still hasn’t made up his mind in a year?

  19. Jake*

    My wife and I went through something like this. My wife was diagnosed with cancer after being told she had less than 1% chance of being diagnosed. We weren’t worried at all, so when I was talking to a potential employer, I didn’t bring it up at all. Well, she was diagnosed three days after I accepted an offer, had turned in my 5 weeks notice (it was at a time of year where that long of notice was preferable for all parties), and had everything set up. We ended up having to use COBRA coverage since she quit her job to move with me and everything.

    I don’t want this to scare you OP because we were definitely the exception to the rule, and we were very unlucky, but please make sure that financially speaking you don’t make any decisions until you know all the facts. Alison’s advice is dead on, but as an addendum to that, please do not make a final decision until you know the diagnosis along with the financial implications of whatever you choose.

    I ended up talking to my new employer and letting them know my situation, and that I was still interested, but we would need some flexibility if Chemo ended up being the treatment. It was the right decision for us because we had the financial flexibility to make it happen, but it would have been a true hardship if we wouldn’t have had all the information.

    Not that its relevant to this discussion, but my wife is cancer-free after a couple surgeries and no Chemo.

    1. Mabel*

      Not that its relevant to this discussion, but my wife is cancer-free after a couple surgeries and no Chemo.

      It might not be technically relevant, but AAM has a pretty sympathetic crowd of commenters, and I’m sure we’re all glad to hear that your wife is doing well.

  20. Mimmy*

    Lots of good suggestions here already. Just wanted to add in my good wishes to the OP. Hoping everything turns out well!

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