Missing year in your college career and Resume

So I was ready to go into my fourth year of college before I was diagnosed (it was already looking like I was on the 5 or 5 and a half year program, changed majors and had a few rough semesters). Now I have a year gap in my college career and on my resume and Im not sure how to explain it in a professional setting or if Im just outright asked about it during an interview. Do I answer them straight up and tell them my story(I would have no problem doing this) or try to shrug it off with as little explanation as possible, just saying like "medical reasons" or something of the like.

Im due to go back to school this fall and am somewhat nervous about how I will be able to handle it with the lingering effects of chemobrain and just being out of the routine of doing course-work for a year. I plan on going to my professors and explaining to them what has happened and seeing if they can offer any leniency. Strangely I am going to be taking an independent study course under a professor who has also just finished treatment for testicular cancer (same as I). I am wondering how this professor-student relationship will go knowing we have both been through this same life altering thing.
Fortunately (depending how you look at it) I was already diagnosed with a learning disability before all of this and because of this I can receive extended time on tests and exams. This should prove helpful I think.

Have any of you been through a situation similar in any way? What are you thoughts or suggestions?

Comments

  • 12 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I just graduated with a BA in Geography. It took me 7 years. I had 2 semesters that were full withdrawls, and I never took a full course load until this past fall when I did 12 hours, and this semester when I did 18 to graduate. I'm not really sure how to handle this when dealing with employers myself yet. I was already in remission the whole time, but just dealing with physical problems related to cancer. Check out Cancer and Careers. They have a lot of great information. You can also probably find the employment breakout session from the OMG! Summit. I'm pretty sure they covered how to handle resume gaps. I'll see if I can find it for you.

    For going back to school, I'll give you the advice I give everyone in this situation: contact your college's disability resource center and get set up with them. Speak with your doctors about whatever accommodations you might need, have them write letters saying you need it, and the disability resource center should take care of the rest. At my school they give you pre-printed letters that you just hand to the professors explaining everything. If for some reason they don't abide, you have an ally to help you work out the situation. Also, at both the community college and university I went to, professors were required to state on the syllabus that no accommodations would be provided unless coordinated by the DRC. It sounds like you are generally familiar with the process. It's really no different than when they give you extended test time and stuff like that.
  • Regarding the 1yr absence, they really have no entitlement to the full answer. Knowing this opens them up to discrimination issues and a whole host of problems they'd do well to avoid. If they ask, "medical reasons" is enough. They do not need to know how near death you ever were or were not, and they do not need to know anything about any uncertainty in your future. All they need to know to make sure you weren't slumming it and living off welfare is that you were dealing with medical issues - they don't even need to know if they were yours or someone else's (like a parent). They will probably find out eventually if they hire you, but this information is not relevant for the hiring process...don't give it to them voluntarily.

    As for the course stuff, it's unique for everyone. I was halfway through a master's program in environmental science when I was diagnosed. I took two full semesters totally off for treatment. Another semester I technically took off for financial reasons, but in reality I was working on one of the courses I needed to make up. I was also working on a report to the state about my project (they funded it). I have been registered full time for the past year and this week will be taking my LAST final exam for my degree. Everything from then on will be thesis work.

    For me, extended test time did NOTHING to help me deal with the effects of chemobrain. My problem was material retention. Chemobrain made it much more difficult for me to remember things I heard or read, and the disability services office gave me a funny look when I described that I needed help figuring out how to remember material. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It was a damn shame, really. I wound up getting more help directly from one of my professors who was willing to work with me to figure out what I needed to change in my learning techniques. It helped a lot (that was in the fall) and this semester, I am on the verge of 4-pointing again (my GPA was a 4.0 before cancer).

    I think it would be a good idea to work with that professor who has also recently gone through treatment. He will understand a lot of the challenges you are having related to cancer and chemobrain. Disability services might be more help to you than it was for me, since you probably have something they've heard of before. It'd be worthwhile to work with them, too.
  • ColleenColleen Community Member
    Kind-of dealing with this same issue. Luckily I have not had to miss any of college, but cancer/etc. was something I wanted to include in my personal statement for medical school, since my experiences have influenced my desire to become a doctor and specifically treat people in the same situation.

    However, I have received the same advice from numerous people: don't go into detail because it opens a can of worms re: discrimination like mtbikernate said. The more detail they get the bigger chance you have of them thinking stuff like you might have to be absent a lot, you might not be able to fulfill the requirements of the job, etc. Therefore I have made it very clear in my statement, that the incident I am talking about is resolved and was a one-time thing. I would recommend saying "medical reasons" or maybe even "medical reasons that have since resolved". I don't mention any of my ongoing problems in my statement because they don't need to know (and something like me having to take a medication with minimal side effects isn't going to impact my career).
    Jason Mlot;3279 said:
    For going back to school, I'll give you the advice I give everyone in this situation: contact your college's disability resource center and get set up with them. Speak with your doctors about whatever accommodations you might need, have them write letters saying you need it, and the disability resource center should take care of the rest. At my school they give you pre-printed letters that you just hand to the professors explaining everything. If for some reason they don't abide, you have an ally to help you work out the situation. Also, at both the community college and university I went to, professors were required to state on the syllabus that no accommodations would be provided unless coordinated by the DRC. It sounds like you are generally familiar with the process. It's really no different than when they give you extended test time and stuff like that.

    Yeah, this. Unfortunately no one is going to be required to give you accommodations without documentation and at most schools that is handled through disability. It felt odd signing up with them (I don't think of myself as disabled) but they have helped a lot, even with little things. I haven't needed accommodation in classrooms but I have with housing. Earlier in the year it was in the 90s and the college didn't have A/C on. I'm on a medication that makes me overheat very easily so my body was threatening to send me to the ER for dehydration... emailed disability and my A/C was on within hours (I already had a note on file). If I had tried to go through residence life they would have just been like "well, the university doesn't turn A/C on until it's consistently warm so as not to waste money". And although it's annoying, it makes sense because you could be making stuff up. So I would definitely talk to disability before any of your professors just so you at least have that back-up. My school is big into letting you handle the problem yourself and disability will just back you up, basically. Like they will email the professor about accommodations you need, but it's your job to have the meeting with the professor and make sure what they are doing is going to work for you.
  • My son just finished his Jr year, going through Chemo. Absolutely contact the Disability Dept. they will help coordinate things with all your profs, so that if you're too sick to attend class or late with an assignment. This way everything is documented in writing. If the Disability Dept isn't helpful (they really should be), contact the Dean of Student Affairs.
  • bpojb03bpojb03 Community Member
    mtbikernate;3280 said:
    For me, extended test time did NOTHING to help me deal with the effects of chemobrain. My problem was material retention. Chemobrain made it much more difficult for me to remember things I heard or read, and the disability services office gave me a funny look when I described that I needed help figuring out how to remember material. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It was a damn shame, really. I wound up getting more help directly from one of my professors who was willing to work with me to figure out what I needed to change in my learning techniques. It helped a lot (that was in the fall) and this semester, I am on the verge of 4-pointing again (my GPA was a 4.0 before cancer).
    Can you elaborate on your learning techniques? I am really stuggling with reading comprehension due to the inability to retain information for more than three seconds. I am going to be entering a Masters program this Fall and I did not want to involve the Disabled Students Program because I did not have good experiences with them from my last University. I use to be able to write everything down but now that I cannot hold a pencil I am unsure of how to make myself remember things.
  • bpojb03;4028 said:
    Can you elaborate on your learning techniques? I am really stuggling with reading comprehension due to the inability to retain information for more than three seconds. I am going to be entering a Masters program this Fall and I did not want to involve the Disabled Students Program because I did not have good experiences with them from my last University. I use to be able to write everything down but now that I cannot hold a pencil I am unsure of how to make myself remember things.

    One of the things disability services at my university offered was note-takers to write things down for you. That would absolutely be worth a visit to get someone set up to do that for you.

    Prior to cancer, I had a near-photographic memory. I barely didn't need to study at all. Just a quick read-through of my notes was usually enough for me. I maintained a pretty high GPA as an undergrad, and managed to hold a 4.0 as a master's student this way. So when things changed for me, I didn't have a very strong background in study skills because I didn't need it. But that's the sort of thing they teach in middle school and high school. They seem to expect you to know these things already when you're in college. Well, when you don't need study techniques, you don't recall them. That was my situation. All of a sudden, I found I needed study techniques, and I didn't remember any of them from 15-20-odd years ago.

    The professor who helped me worked through some different techniques with me, and I adopted the ones that I felt more comfortable with. Instead of just reading/hearing material and remembering it, I had to spend more time re-reading it several times and also writing it down. I made outlines of book chapters and made flash cards when I needed to learn specific words or facts. It also appears as though working through the challenges I had back then helped me improve my retention for the following semester. I wasn't totally back to "normal", but I did notice that my material retention was improved and got my grades back up.
  • KatlynnKatlynn Community Member
    I'm actually dealing with this now. I'm a nursing student and I took both semesters off last year. I'm pretty nervous about going back in the fall just because I've taken so much time off. I took some summer classes in June to try to ease into things. I think you will be fine. You just need to really look at your goals and see what you want to get accomplished and figure out what you need to do to get it accomplished. At least for me, battling cancer has made me more motivated to succeed and get the most out of life.
  • CareyCarey Community Member
    I'm going to try going back to school soon. I'm pretty nervous about going back for several reasons, but I think Katlynn and Nate have hit the heart of it. It's not all about returning to where you were before but adapting and rewiring your brain to retain the new material. I guess for me it will be less about having an amazing GPA or being at the top of the class and about just doing well enough. I have to take an intro to geography class before I begin my program, so that'll be instructive as to how I'll fare with the later classes.
  • ambreenambreen Community Member
    I'm going through the same thing. I was diagnosed in the middle of my sophomore year of college and had to drop all my classes. Now that I'm done with treatment, I'm getting ready to get back into it but I don't know how to explain the whole missing year thing especially since I'm planning on applying to med school next year. A lot of the advice here is really helpful. Thanks guys! And I agree with not going into too much detail to avoid discrimination. I never thought of it like that, but it does make a lot of sense.
    bpojb03;4028 said:
    Can you elaborate on your learning techniques? I am really stuggling with reading comprehension due to the inability to retain information for more than three seconds. I am going to be entering a Masters program this Fall and I did not want to involve the Disabled Students Program because I did not have good experiences with them from my last University. I use to be able to write everything down but now that I cannot hold a pencil I am unsure of how to make myself remember things.
    Like someone already suggested, a note taker will be extremely helpful. Before I was diagnosed, I worked as a note taker for the services for students with disabilities office and its completely confidential. We'd email our notes to the office and they'd forward it to the students who need the notes. Something else you might find useful is a recorder that way if you miss something in the lecture you can go back to recorder to fill in the missing gaps in your notes. I'm going back to school full time in the fall, but I'm taking a cell bio class right now for the summer and the recorder is my best friend :)
  • I am extremely nervous about returning to school. Right now I have only had to take a semester off my junior year because of the frequency of my treatments but the spring semester is still up in the air. I really want to go back and I feel as though I have pretty good study skills, I am just so worried about how different it will be. I want to get back to being on the softball team as well which is scary too, not only because of less study time when I am sure I will be needing much more than before, but also my ability to juggle everything with all the fatigue. Ughhh I guess worrying won't help me, just got take care of it once it gets here and hope for the best!
  • Like I said earlier in this thread, I would highly recommend checking with your college's disability resource center. Also, in your case, you should probably consult whatever academic adviser you have for your college's athletic department. I know there are different requirements about how many classes you have to take as an athlete. A reduced course load really helped me, but I'm not sure if that's an option for athletes.
  • Take it easy coming back. Don't push your body too hard or you can set yourself back.

    For me, the schedule kinda went as follows:
    Nov 09: last full dose chemo
    Jan 10: started working to make up 1 course I was in when I got sick. started my research assistantship again...maybe put in 20-30hrs/wk combined. started riding my bike a little bit
    Aug 10: started taking a full courseload again, continued my assistantship, got a personal trainer and started the cancer to 5k program. putting in about 30hrs/wk at school, exercising 5 days/wk. tiredness started catching up after a few months. stopped the personal trainer after a couple months and dialed back other exercise after October. took a good bit of time resting, because I wore myself out.
    Dec 10: got shingles from being so stressed out. just before final exams. just before Christmas, I wound up having to go to the ER because I was violently ill. needed IV fluids and got seriously doped up on multiple antivomiting drugs.
    Jan 11: began my final semester of coursework. picked up exercising a little bit. not as intense as the fall, but kept it up at least on a regular basis. tiredness still a problem. can't manage to wake up before 10am most days.
    May 11: finish final semester of coursework, but still have thesis work to complete. assistantship runs out, but need to put lots of time into my project. Start working hard to get myself to be able to get up early in the morning again.
    July 11: play soccer 2 days/wk in the summer adult league. I hold my own just fine, especially after a few weeks getting my balance and coordination back, but it's taken awhile to get there.
    Aug 11: by this time, I have managed to be able to drag my carcass into the office by 8am, which is good because I now have a teaching assistantship and keep office hours from 8-10am daily. I spend 10hrs in the office most days and 13.5hrs there on Thursdays. I only put in a few hours on Fridays because I still just can't keep that workload up that much.