How Stage 4 Kidney Cancer Diagnosis Didn’t Stop This Young Woman From Getting a Great New Job

Katie Coleman faced a choice no job seeker should ever have to make. She could tell her future employer that she had stage 4 kidney cancer, the deadliest stage of all.

Or she could stay mum.

She knew she risked losing her chance at work by being honest about her diagnosis – or risking her self-esteem by remaining silent about it.

It may sound like the plot of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. It’s not. It was the decision faced by the 31-year-old resident of Austin, Texas, who has battled the deadly disease for nearly three years.

“The number of people advising me not to disclose my [diagnosis] is amazing”, she tweeted mid April. The concern was that employers might worry about the costs and absenteeism that can result from such a condition — even though federal law prohibits employers from considering health issues when hiring.

Yet during an interview for the high-pressure software engineering job she desperately wanted, Coleman shared her diagnosis with the CEO of MDisrupt, an Austin-based company that connects clinicians and scientists with healthcare companies. digital.

Ruby Gadelrab, CEO and founder of MDisrupt, was unfazed. Moments after interviewing Coleman for a job, she tweeted, “Today I met a candidate who applied for one of our jobs, and she might just be the most inspiring person I’ve ever had. never met.”

Medical history is private

Coleman’s personal story is both breathtaking and hopeful. It took 18 months to get an accurate diagnosis in the first place, after eight doctors insisted she was too young for cancer and the real problem must be anxiety. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2020, an ultrasound performed in the emergency room determined that she had metastatic renal oncocytoma, a rare form of kidney cancer, which only became malignant after spreading. to his liver. Then she underwent major surgery to remove a 12-centimeter tumor from her right kidney and numerous tumors from her liver. In a second procedure, doctors burned off tiny tumors on her liver that were too small to see in the first procedure. Coleman asked doctors at the National Cancer Institute to perform the operation and procedure because they were the only ones she consulted who were willing to operate. She also knew they were interested in studying rare kidney cancers like hers.

None of this – not the surgery, the prognosis, his honesty – stopped Coleman from snatching his dream, or MDisrupt from hiring him as a full-time software developer.

Coleman’s experience has become a social media tradition as she shares updates on her battle with cancer and her new job in posts on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. She leaves a deep imprint on social media that she believes could help other cancer patients for years to come.

At the same time, her story has become a high-profile reminder to employers and job applicants that a potential employee’s medical history is their own business, unless they choose to share it.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits asking potential employees anything about their medical history — or using health conditions as grounds for not hiring them, said Joyce Walker-Jones, senior attorney and counsel at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I consider my diagnosis to be my greatest strength.

Katie Coleman

Walker-Jones does not recommend sharing medical information with potential employers. “If a candidate knows they have a serious medical condition, they don’t have to disclose it, although they will need reasonable accommodation if they get the job,” he said. she declared.

In this regard, Coleman threw caution to the wind.

She applied for the job at MDisrupt because a recruiter who spotted her cancer-cursed social media posts approached her. Gadelrab said she was unaware of Coleman’s cancer battle and never asked about his health. But Coleman chose to direct his diagnosis and shared his story.

“I consider my diagnosis to be my greatest strength,” Coleman said. The type of tumor she has is almost always benign, but in her case, that was not the case.

Coleman contacted Driven to Cure – an organization for rare kidney cancers – for help. And Driven to Cure connected her to the National Cancer Institute.

She has been off treatment since the fall and said she was under “active surveillance”, monitoring with scans every three months to keep a close eye on a few suspicious spots too small to treat.

She’s also on a personal mission to destroy her cancer — in part by keeping a digital eye on all the twists and turns in her medical journey with an app she created. Coleman began working on his app concept after his surgery, but before his liver surgery in 2021.

The app lets her keep track of her doctors — and everything she needs for her care — in one place. She shared her creation for other patients to use for free. Gadelrab “really liked me building a positive out of a negative,” Coleman said.

Gadelrab said she looks for three essential qualities — none related to health — in new hires: passion, purpose and potential. She said she found all three at Coleman.

“Katie was so passionate. She has a way of communicating her empathy to providers and patients that is different from others,” Gadelrab said. “That’s exactly the kind of thinking we need to have as a company: empathy for our users. Katie came up with this.

Still, Coleman was hesitant to take the job once she received the offer. She was awaiting yet another critical cancer analysis. She was nervous about leaving a company that had been good for her. And she was afraid to change insurers. Then, something unexpected persuaded her to accept the offer.

As she was at home packing to go to the hospital for the scan – which the folks at MDisrupt knew was coming – she heard a knock on her door. When she answered, she saw a huge bouquet of orange roses – the color that signifies Kidney Cancer Awareness. It was from MDisrupt. The note read, “Good luck with the scans.”

She took the job.

Coleman’s first day was late April. She works from home most of the time, but comes into the office once or twice a week for group meetings. She does not recommend that all people with serious illnesses be so open with potential employers.

“My advice is to first research the company you want to work for and know that they will support you,” she said.

Coleman, who has 40,000 TikTok followers and nearly 5,000 Twitter followers, continues to document his battle with cancer on social media — and in a new blog post. She pokes fun at herself in her posts because, she says, her self-mockery often leads to more donations for the kidney cancer research she promotes. Perhaps his recent tweet says it best:

“My pet peeves can be summed up by: 1. Cancer. 2. Mansplaining. 3. Sauce packets missing with takeout.

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