'I Got Cancer at 24': What I Want Employers (and Everyone Else) to Know About Age


It recently occurred to me that although I am doing so much better than before, there is still so much pain and anger inside me stemming from having cancer at 24. I have a great group of friends, and I don’t feel sad every day (thank you, antidepressants) or let cancer define me. But there’s a big area that’s still really hard for me. The fact that I “lost” so much of my 20s is something I grapple with all the time.

I feel like I missed out on the ideal years of dating, experimenting with careers and being in great shape. Even when I think I have moved past that and learned that age is just a number, it comes back to haunt me. Especially because my body feels a lot older and a lot different than it did before it was loaded with poison. I also feel guilty because I didn’t actually lose much… I am still here, after all. I feel like am constantly standing still and everyone around me is moving. Career is the biggest one for me. It’s the thing that keeps me up at night. Before I got sick I worked in TV production. I was a freelancer and had inpatient treatment so working wasn’t an option for me. My first stint in the hospital was six weeks. A few years ago I went back to grad school and left my nonprofit job. Finishing school with a 4.0 GPA was a huge accomplishment for me. Today I work multiple jobs I like, but I yearn to have a career and decent health insurance too. I don’t know what I want to do, and I feel like I lost all the years of trying out different things. When I was fresh out of college so many people gave me chances and helped me. I want to be able to do that for others. I had so many contacts, internships and so many jobs. But I feel like I lost all of that too. It’s almost as if my entire life before cancer was erased and I have to start over, but I can’t because now I am seen as too “old.” It’s frustrating, and I get more stressed and sad about it as the days tick by.

I constantly get rejected and I wonder if I will ever find the right thing, or if it’s too late for me?

So hiring managers… I beg of you. Don’t judge an applicant by their age. Don’t assume what pay they will accept. People want second chances and the chance to do something they love. That shouldn’t stop when someone is 25. Also, let’s all stop asking questions that assume things about an individual’s goals and timelines. Some people don’t want kids or marriage until their 40s, and some people don’t want it at all. We are all different. Let’s learn to respect each other.

Photo credit: Poike/Getty Images


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