“Without the beauty industry, there would be no Cancer and Careers,” said Rebecca V. Nellis, Executive Director of the nonprofit that was established in 2001.

She means it quite literally. CEW President Carlotta Jacobson founded CEW’s charitable initiative after she learned that five out of 40 CEW board members at the time had cancer — and all had the same concerns about how to navigate their careers during this tumultuous time. These were women at the top of their beauty companies — if they didn’t have the answers, who did?

Well, they wouldn’t be without those answers for long.

Jacobson’s vision and leadership brought early backing by Genentech (then called Roche, a biotechnology company dedicated to groundbreaking science and medicine for serious and life-threatening diseases) as well as support from major beauty brands, including Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, P&G Beauty, Shiseido, and Chanel. Cancer and Careers (CAC) became an answer hub for patients — and remains one — serving up legal and financial information as well as guidance on disclosure in what Nellis called “regular people-speak” in online articles, webinars, and conferences.

Rebecca Nellis, Executive Director, CAC

CAC also provides one-on-one services, with staff, including in-house social workers, to field the most personal of inquiries in English and Spanish. “The work issues we handle are on such a wide spectrum,” said Nellis. “Not unlike a diagnosis, they are so unique to the individual. What is their job? Who do they work for? Are they looking for work? What are they concerned about related to [their circumstances]?” In turn, in 2023, CAC’s career coach reviewed 256 resumes, and the organization gave $25,250 in emergency financial support to 101 cancer patients and survivors. (Since 2020, more than $600,000 in financial aid has been distributed.)

Beyond this deep connection with individuals and becoming an accredited training resource for healthcare workers, providing them with information to help their patients, CAC has recently taken a wider reach. It’s now helping corporations establish policies on leave and accommodations, as well as providing employee training to embed compassion and understanding within company culture.

“Many people aren’t trained to be managers,” said Nellis. “You know, you were good at your job. You were good at meeting deadlines. You were good at sales. And because you were great at what you did, suddenly, you have direct reports, who are actual humans showing up with all kinds of complexities…So, how do you prepare for the moment when someone walks through your proverbial door [to talk] about something like a diagnosis?”

One company CAC has helped with their policies as well as manager and HR training is Publicis Groupe, which has a very synergistic vision. Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun, a cancer survivor and advocate, is the honoree at the CAC 2024 Beauty of Giving Luncheon on Thursday, June 13 in New York City. Sadoun is being recognized for his company’s Working with Cancer Pledge, centered on removing the stigma of cancer in the workplace. So far, nearly 1,600 companies have taken Publicis’s pledge, some of which CAC is working with to determine how they can best support employees who say they aren’t ready to leave the purpose, normalcy, and progress of their work behind during treatment. (In a CAC/Harris Poll survey, 75% of surveyed cancer patients and survivors said working through treatment helped them cope.)

Nellis herself seems made for this work. Her thesis paper in graduate school was on cancer survivorship and work, inspired by her first eight years at CAC (she stayed with the organization while obtaining her master’s). Her initial introduction to CAC came through a 2004 Craigslist job posting seeking a temporary hire at the nonprofit, which was all Nellis — who had two other jobs at the time — could commit to. “I can’t stay past June,” she told her interviewers, the then two-person CAC team. But soon, she found herself in love with the organization. “We were filling an important gap,” said Nellis. CAC found her indispensable, too.

More welcome revelations followed, like the success of their first National Conference on Work & Cancer in 2011, which led to annual ones (last year’s virtual event was attended by 747 people) and regional offshoot conferences in the Midwest and West Coast. The 14th annual National Conference will be held on Friday, June 21, 2024.

By making all the conferences virtual after the pandemic, CAC now reaches a broader audience, but it also has had to contend with a potential accessibility barrier. The organization has redirected scholarships they used to provide to in-person attendees into a Technology Assistance Program, which has provided laptops that not only help attendees take part in an event, but also help with virtual doctors’ appointments, job hunts, and remote work.

A laptop is just one of the vital resources that CAC provides its community members. As one laptop recipient wrote in a recent testimonial: “From start to finish, you are so in tune with the ins and outs specifically with cancer patients [on] how to navigate finding a job, interviewing skills, work-life balance stressors, working remotely and so, so much more. This is the only organization I can say really dives deep into the career process of cancer patients. CAC always goes Above and Beyond! Thank you for providing me with the tools that can set me up for success in my journey.”

Cancer and Careers’ 2024 Beauty of Giving Luncheon is on Thursday, June 13th in New York City. Secure a ticket or table today by registering here. Cancer and Careers’ virtual 2024 National Conference on Work & Cancer is on Friday, June 21st. Register today through this link.