Late last month, Vice President Joe Biden held a Cancer Moonshot Summit at the White House, the intent of which was to vastly accelerate the “…understanding, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer…” This summit had over 350 guests including Andrew and Esther Schorr, as well as 6,000 others participating throughout the United States.
I became aware of this initiative when Tom Brokaw interviewed Vice President Biden on national TV just days ahead of the summit. Mr. Brokaw has been with NBC News since 1966 and was network news anchor for over 20 years. During the interview, Mr. Brokaw talked openly about his cancer and spoke about the support he received both personally and from his professional community. He was particularly emphatic about how his employer really supported him.
Mr. Brokaw’s comments really hit a nerve. I marveled at his good fortune to have an employer who helped him deal with his cancer. Mr. Brokaw said as much.
Not all of us are so lucky. Given the predilections of Corporate America, and increasingly in other economic sectors, the days of a being with one employer for an entire career are long gone. Depending on the quoted source, people can anticipate having between seven and 15 jobs in a career.
CLL tends to occur in people who are in their 50s or older. It is this same demographic that often has the most difficulty staying employed—and in finding new employment. Among others, there is a meme that older employees are more expensive, less productive, and have greater medical costs when compared with younger workers. Unfortunately, and despite the benefits of our experience, mentorship, and yes, loyalty (how anachronistic), we are nonetheless viewed as expensive liabilities.
In my own case, this meme has no basis in fact. First, physiologically I have been tested to be 15 to 20 years younger than my physical age. For example, I rode 75 miles on my bike this past weekend in near 100-degree heat and am disappointed that I did not get to my goal of 100 miles. Similarly, my professional experience lets me focus on what is important to a client, and then effectively allocate resources towards achieving those goals. My projects reflect well on my employer. I am sure that I am not alone in debunking the myth.
Nonetheless, for those of us in the workforce with CLL, it presents one more challenge to be navigated. On the one hand, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of either age or health. On the other, proving that one has been discriminated against is difficult given the vagaries and subjective nature of modern HR.
This is one reason why I blog under a pseudonym. On the one hand, CLL is just part of who I am, and I live well despite this. On the other, as a purely practical matter, I really don’t want to give potential employers a reason to pass me by.
Although just briefly hinted at in my first blog, this entire topic drew a very large response about to whom, and how, one tells people they have CLL. While there remains general concern about my health within my personal circle of friends and family, we have collectively processed this fact and focus on living. However, from a professional perspective, bringing this topic up just makes things that much more difficult, and I wish that were different.
We need a robust discussion here, not just in this blog, but more broadly. I welcome your comments about how you, or others that you know, deal with this thorny topic.
Thank you for reading!
Always hope. Never quit.
– C.J. Chris