Anyone working on a doctorate and feel like you want to quit?

Hi all,
I was diagnosed with breast cancer last September, about 3 weeks into the academic year. At that point, I was optimistic and excited to begin work on my dissertation proposal and I was starting my fifth year in my doctorate of education program. 10 months later and after chemo, surgery and radiation, I was initially excited to move on and "make up for lost time." That was a month ago, and now I just feel dread thinking about how I'm ever going to collect my data and write my dissertation  and have lost all interest in reading for my literature review. Sometimes I feel trapped and feel like quitting would relieve anxiety and pressure. But, what I'm worried about is that maybe this is momentary and if I quit now, I might regret it later. Other issues-- I'm planning to TA and my health insurance (which is really great) is through my institution. I can't take a leave of absence because I lose my health insurance, though I can go slower and "adjust the academic clock" because of my situation. There are accommodations and my advisor has been supportive, so those are not problems. It's more a matter of self-motivation. So, just wondering if anyone out there has experience with trying to do their dissertation through their cancer treatment and shortly thereafter? 


  • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • mort85mort85 Community Member
    Unfortunately I cannot speak to working on my doctoral degree while undergoing treatment, but I am a cancer survivor that is now working on a dissertation, so I can only imagine what your going through right now. Treatment is hard enough, but do be trying to do this work as well is incredible. I noticed you posted this a while ago, so I don't know if you are still working on your degree or not, but if so I would simply keep plugging along and you will get there. Good Luck.
  • Hi mort85! Thanks so much for writing... I posted probably at a time when I was feeling most pessimistic about continuing on in my program and now I'm happy to say that I am continuing to plug away, and in fact, have changed my dissertation topic to the very subject of exploring the experiences of doctoral students who are diagnosed with a serious/chronic illness! So, thank you for your words of encouragement!

    If it's of any interest, I'm recruiting for participants now... if you know of anyone who might be interested, please send them my way! Details below:
    Hello! My name is Amy and I am a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. For my dissertation study, I am seeking research participants for an in-depth interview study on experiences of serious and/or chronic physical illness while pursuing doctoral study.

    This study was, in part, conceived following my own experience as a doctoral student who was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of my program. When I sought out literature and research about how to cope with illness alongside doctoral studies, I found few resources. I hope for this study to contribute to a greater understanding of what it takes to support students with serious and chronic illness to progress in their doctoral education.

    I am seeking participants, in any discipline, who:

    · graduated recently (within the last 3 years) with a doctoral degree OR are current students OR are former doctoral-level students who left prior to graduation from a US university

    · and were diagnosed with a new serious and/or chronic illness during doctoral study (i.e. you did not begin your doctoral work with a known illness)

    If you choose to participate in this study, you will be interviewed in a series of 3 separate interviews, totaling approximately 3-4 hours. (If necessary, a different arrangement may be possible). Interviews will be conducted in English.

    If you are interested in learning more or have questions about meeting the selection criteria, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at or call me at 617-657-3470.

    You may also complete a short confidential and secure selection screening survey at this link: All inquiries and interviews are confidential and participation in the study is completely voluntary.

    Thank you for your interest!

    - Amy
  • mort85mort85 Community Member
    If I think of anyone I will definitely let you know. I am actually going to use social media to collect my sample for my dissertation, so that might be an option. I have four classes until my dissertation courses, and present my prospectus in a few weeks, so we will see what happens. I'm committed to it, but it is definitely a time suck, hahaha. Keep up. The great work

  • Hey there!

    I dont have experience being in school with cancer per second, but I was diagnosed a year ago while I was studying for the AZ Bar Exam. I am always here if you want to talk or vent! Feel free to message me anytime!

    Holly Marie