The Work Life and Career Development of Young Working Women Who are Breast Cancer Survivors: A Qualitative Study

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Raque-Bogdan, Trisha Lynn
Hoffman, Mary Ann
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 has begun to address many aspects of survivors' quality of life, yet the role of work and career issues have been understudied. To explore the work lives and career development of young breast cancer survivors, this study consisted of qualitative interviews with 13 young women who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40. Participants also completed the Quality of Life-Cancer Survivors (QOL-CS) Breast Cancer Version (Ferrell, Dow, & Grant, 1995). The qualitative data was analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research Methodology (Hill et al., 2005; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997). The 11 domains that emerged from the data were: (1) discovery of breast cancer and the navigation of treatment; (2) career development: influences and sacrifices; (3) cancer-related work challenges; (4) coping with cancer-related work challenges; (5) re-appraisal of career development after cancer; (6) components of career and life satisfaction after cancer; (7) impact of breast cancer on life outside of work; (8) lessons learned from breast cancer; (9) thoughts about the future; (10) advice for other survivors; and (11) participants' feelings about participating. Overarching themes of re-appraisal and meaning-making appeared across the domains. The experience of breast cancer before the age of 40 intensified most participants' need for purpose in life. Many sought work that provided a sense of meaning, yet their need for financial security and insurance prevented some of them from having the freedom to make that sense of meaning the primary focus of their career or from redirecting their career paths to one that better expressed their re-appraised life meaning. Findings are integrated with literature on women's career development, Career Construction Theory (Savickas, 2002, 2005), and Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000, 2002) and implications for research and practice are discussed.