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Juggling life and work takes effort on a normal day. But when we’re dealt a setback — a divorce, a family member’s illness (or our own), a financial nightmare — it’s a much bigger feat. I know this challenge quite well: I had been the Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte for less than a year when suddenly, in May of 2016, I received an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis following my first mammogram. 

While there’s no one “right” decision for everyone, the best decision for me was to continue working during my treatment. Showing up for work added a sense of normalcy to my life and helped me feel connected to my purpose. I came out on the other side (I’ve been in remission for three years), and through that ordeal learned some lessons about navigating a job when you’re going through a personal crisis. This advice may help you keep your career on track — and your stress in check — if you ever find yourself in a tough time. 

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global

Schedule self-care — and stick to it.
During my treatment, I was diligent about taking care of myself and my health. I booked nap time into my calendar every afternoon because my body needed it. I was open about it with my team and other colleagues, and simply being honest served as a virtual do-not-disturb sign. There are other ways to build small acts of self-care into your day, whether it’s eating a healthy, satisfying lunch away from your desk, taking a 15-minute walk with your colleague, or listening to soothing music while you do solo tasks. P.S. Once you find a routine that works for you, stick with it — even once you’re no longer in crisis mode. To this day, I keep that time blocked out on my calendar for whatever self-care I feel I need at the moment. 

Make H.R. your ally.
Many employers offer support — everything from counseling and even legal services — that can help you get through a crisis, but learning about them often requires opening up to human resources. Your H.R. rep should walk you through any options that might be useful, including benefits you are eligible for. To make the conversation less stressful for you, do some prep before disclosing your illness. Think about what you are — and aren’t — comfortable sharing, along with any accommodation requests you’d like to make that may allow you to keep doing your job. 

Ask for help (so you can get it).
It may seem obvious, but learning how to ask for help can be a game-changer during a personal crisis. Keep in mind, we often assume our needs are more apparent to others than they really are, so it’s important to be explicit. If you need a pal to pick up your kid from school so you can visit a sick parent in the hospital after work, make that known. If you’d like some leeway on a deadline to take some pressure off, talk to your boss about it. Remember: People want to step up, but often don’t know what to do until you ask. 

Seek out people who lift you up.
When a personal hardship enters your life, you need all the positivity you can get. That’s why it’s especially important to be intentional about who you spend your time with when you are going through something difficult. Surround yourself with people that lift you up and look to have human contact as often as you can. Our instinct may be to isolate and withdraw when we’re struggling, but going toward connection is key. 

Expand your network.
Once I started to open up about my breast cancer diagnosis, it seemed that so many people I told knew someone who’d been through it, too. After all, there is a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer for women, and a very small percentage of men get it, too. As people offered to connect me — to their friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, and co-workers who’d experienced breast cancer — I built a solid network I could tap into anytime. People who’ve been in similar situations can guide you, share their experiences, or even just answer your call so you have someone to scream and cry to, if that’s what you need. Often times we believe that what we are going through is unique, but we are all human and we all struggle — and being reminded of that can be enormously helpful. 

The Life-Work Integration section includes content meant to inspire and inform Thrive Global readers and is not a part of any other partnership across both brands.  


  • Jen Fisher

    𝗩𝗼𝗶𝗰𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘄𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗯𝗲𝗶𝗻𝗴 + 𝗵𝘂𝗺𝗮𝗻 𝘀𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘆 | 𝖡𝖾𝗌𝗍𝗌𝖾𝗅𝗅𝗂𝗇𝗀 𝖠𝗎𝗍𝗁𝗈𝗋 | 𝖳𝖤𝖣𝗑 𝖲𝗉𝖾𝖺𝗄𝖾𝗋 | 𝖧𝗈𝗌𝗍 #𝖶𝗈𝗋𝗄𝖶𝖾𝗅l | 𝖳𝗁𝗋𝗂𝗏𝖾 𝖤𝖽𝗂𝗍𝗈𝗋

    Jen Fisher is a leading voice on the intersection of work, well-being, and purpose. Her mission is to help leaders move from the legacy mindset that well-being is solely the responsibility of the individual to the forward-thinking idea of human sustainability, which supports the long-term, collective well-being of individuals, organizations, climate, and society.  

    She’s the co-author of the bestselling, award-winning book, Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines, the Human Sustainability Editor-at-Large for Thrive Global, and the host of the WorkWell podcast series.

    As the first chief well-being officer of a professional services organization, Jen built and led the creation and execution of a pioneering holistic and inclusive well-being strategy that has received recognition from leading business media brands and associations.

    Jen is a frequent writer on issues impacting the workplace today, including the importance of mental health and social connection to workforce resilience, happiness, and productivity. Her work has been featured in CNBC, CNN, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Harvard Business Review, among others.

    She’s a sought-after speaker and has been featured at events including TEDx, World Happiness Summit, Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Acumen Global Gathering, WorkHuman, The Atlantic Pursuit of Happiness event, and more. She’s also lectured at top universities across the country, including Harvard, Wake Forest, Duke, and George Mason.

    Jen is passionate about sharing her breast cancer and burnout recovery journeys to help others. She’s also a healthy lifestyle enthusiast, self-care champion, exercise fanatic, sleep advocate, and book nerd! Jen lives in Miami with her husband, Albert, and dog, Fiona.

    You can find her on LinkedIn or on Twitter and Instagram @JenFish23. You can also receive her personal insights and reflections by subscribing to her newsletter, "Thoughts on Being Well" @jenfisher.substack.com.