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On Cancer and Career: A Colleague's Story

Jennie G. Jacobson earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and did post-doctoral research at Upjohn Laboratories and The University of Michigan. As a Lilly medical writer, she's published in the fields of mental health, outcomes research, and endocrinology.

I applied for a position at Lilly in the spring of 1999. I vividly remember the day that Lilly invited me to interview for the job. That phone call came shortly after a call from my doctor confirming that I had breast cancer. I told the caller from Lilly that my prognosis was very good (we caught the cancer early), but that I would be putting my job search on hold. She wished me the best of luck and said she hoped I would contact Lilly again when my treatment was completed.

Although I agreed, I was skeptical. If I hadn’t still been reeling from my diagnosis, I would not have told her about my cancer. I didn’t think a company would want to hire a cancer survivor, risking the possibility of absences and health care costs if I had a recurrence. The job for which I’d applied was sure to be filled before I finished my treatment. While Lilly couldn’t admit to doing it for reasons of my health, I thought they would find some other reason not to hire me if I applied again.

Nonetheless, six months later, I did call to say I was available to interview. My Lilly contact was genuinely pleased to hear from me and scheduled me to come in right away. I had to wear a hat during my interview because my hair had not grown back yet. When they called to say I wasn’t the best fit for the team I’d interviewed with, they invited me to interview again. Third time lucky, I got that job.

During my 15 years here, I’ve seen that Lilly is mindful that our customers experience health issues every day. Lilly employees with acute or chronic illnesses are treated the way we hope our customers’ employers will treat them—with flexibility, understanding, and respect.