Katie Coleman was faced with a choice that no job seeker should ever make. She could have told her potential employer that she had stage 4 kidney cancer, the most deadly stage.
Or she may have a mother.
He knew in that look that he had lost his temper by being honest about his diagnosis – or that he had lost his self-esteem by keeping quiet about it.
It may sound like the plot of an episode of “Gray’s Anatomy”. It’s not. The decision came after a 31-year-old Austin resident from Texas, who has been battling a life-threatening illness for nearly three years.
“PPL numbers are advising me not to disclose [diagnosis] Amazing, “he said Tweeted in mid-April. There were concerns that employers might be concerned about the costs and absences that could result from such a situation – although federal law prohibits employers from considering health issues when hiring.
Still, desperate to be interviewed for high-pressure software engineering work, Coleman shared his diagnosis with MDisrupt, the CEO of an Austin-based company that connects physicians and scientists with digital healthcare companies.
Ruby Gadelrob, CEO and founder of MDScript, was not disappointed. Moments after Coleman’s interview for a job, he tweeted: “Today I met a candidate who applied for our job, and he may be the most inspiring person I’ve ever met.”
Coleman’s personal story is both hair raising 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 a concern. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2020, an ultrasound performed in an emergency room helped determine her metastatic renal oncocytoma, a rare form of kidney cancer that became malignant as soon as it had spread to her liver. She then underwent extensive surgery to remove a 12-centimeter tumor from her right kidney and numerous tumors from her liver. In the second method, doctors burned a small tumor from his liver that was too small to see during the first surgery. Coleman asked doctors at the National Cancer Institute to perform the surgery and the procedure because they were the only ones he consulted who were willing to have the operation. He also knew they were interested in studying a rare kidney cancer like his.
None of this – not surgery, prognosis, his honesty – did not deter Coleman from trapping his dream, or MDDisrupt prevented him from hiring him as a full-time software developer.
Coleman’s experience has become something of a social media science as he shares updates about his cancer fight and his new job in posts on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Tikto. He is leaving a deep mark across social media that he believes can help fellow cancer patients over the years to come.
At the same time, her story has become a high-profile reminder for employers and job seekers that the medical history of a potential employee is their own business – unless they choose to share it.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits potential employees from asking questions about their medical history – or using health issues as a basis for not hiring them, said Joyce Walker-Jones, senior attorney and adviser to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Walker-Jones does not recommend sharing medical information with potential employers. “If an applicant knows they have a serious medical condition, they have no obligation to disclose it – even if they get a job they will need reasonable accommodation,” he said.
In that regard, Coleman threw a warning to the wind.
She applied for a job at MDScript because an employer who saw her cancer-famous social media posts contacted her. Gaddafi said he was not aware of Coleman’s battle with cancer and had never inquired about his health. But Coleman chose to lead with his diagnosis and shared his story.
“I see my diagnosis as my biggest strength,” Coleman said. The type of her tumor is almost always benign, but not in her case.
Coleman contacted Driven to Cure – an organization for rare kidney cancer – for help. And Driven to Cure has linked him to the National Cancer Institute.
Since the fall, he has stopped treatment and said he is doing “active surveillance”, scanning every three months to keep a close eye on some suspicious spots that cannot be treated.
She is on a personal mission to eradicate her cancer – by keeping digital tabs on all twists and turns in her medical journey through an app she created. Coleman began working on his app concept after his surgery but before his liver procedure in 2021.
The app lets her keep track of her doctors – and everything she needs for her care – in one place. She has shared her creations with other patients for free use. Coleman said Gadelrob “really liked that I was creating something from negative to positive.”
Gaddafi says he looks for three important qualities in newcomers – not health-related: passion, purpose and potential. He said he found all three in Coleman.
“Katie was very enthusiastic. There is a way to express her empathy for donors and patients that is different from others,” Gadelrob said. Katie came up with that. “
Still, Coleman was reluctant to accept the offer. She was waiting for another serious cancer scan. He was nervous about leaving a company that was good for him. And he was concerned about the change of insurer. Then, something unexpected persuaded him to accept the offer.
While packing her bag to go to the hospital for a scan at home – which MDisrupt people knew was coming – she heard a knock on her door. When he answered, he saw a huge bouquet of orange roses – the color indicating Kidney Cancer Awareness. It was from MDisrupt. The note states: “Good luck with the scan.”
He took the job.
Coleman’s first day was at the end of April. He works from home most of the time but goes to the office once or twice a week for group gatherings. He does not recommend that all critically ill people be so open with potential employers.
“My advice is to first research the company you want to work for and know that they will be helpful,” he said.
Coleman, who has 40,000 TickTock followers and about 5,000 Twitter followers, continues to document his cancer fight on social media – and on a new blog. She jokes about herself in her posts because, she said, her self-deprecation often contributes further to her promoted kidney cancer research. Perhaps his most recent tweet says it’s best:
“My pet’s urine can be abbreviated by: 1. Cancer. 2. Mansplaining. 3. Missing sauce packet with takeout.”
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