How to Cultivate a Successful Career While Living With Sickle Cell Disease

Mary Shaniqua avatar

by Mary Shaniqua |

Share this article:

Share article via email
sickle cell patient | Sickle Cell Disease News | sickle cell crisis | main graphic for column titled

I want to start by stressing that I do not believe a booming career is the only parameter of success. I have previously written about what success means to me and how sickle cell disease has shaped my outlook on it.

Having a successful career is a goal that many people have, including those with sickle cell or any disability or chronic condition. One thing people often ask me is how I manage to have a thriving career while living with sickle cell. There is no simple answer to this.

We often speak about career ladders, but I think that term is one-dimensional and linear. I prefer to liken careers to a mountain climb. Unlike climbing a ladder, climbing a mountain is not as simple as step up, step up, and so on. Instead, a mountain climb may require you to take lateral steps, or even steps backward, to eventually get to the top. I have had to do these things in my career, and some of the moves were driven by the volatility of my health.

I was extremely ambitious when I was young, yet I was also not very sick then. However, as I grew older and experienced severe complications from sickle cell, my outlook about my career was affected in an important way.

Today, I would not describe myself as ambitious, and I definitely have an underlying concern about sickle cell stealing my chances of success. But I do believe that while my condition is on its best behavior, I will try my best to take advantage of opportunities and develop my career accordingly.

With that in mind, following are my top four tips to help sickle cell patients foster and develop a successful career.

Prioritize what is important

It is vital to prioritize finding a positive working environment with an inclusive organizational culture, perhaps even more than the actual work you’d be doing. My current workplace is very inclusive and has a positive working environment.

Moreover, they are genuinely understanding of my needs, including my need to take time off for transfusions, my need to work flexibly based on how my body is feeling, and the like.

All of these factors help to reduce unnecessary stress in my work experience. This is key, because stress can cause sickle cell crises.

Balance your decision-making

When planning your career, you need to be really honest with yourself. Sometimes you may need to alter your long-term career plans as a result of your health. I certainly had to do so early on in my career.

There is nothing wrong with this, after all, your well-being is the most important thing. Just be cautious that you are not limiting your capability and using your health as an excuse.

Take a balanced approach. Have clear objectives and work hard to achieve them. But remember the nature of your condition. If it becomes evident that specific objectives are detrimental to your overall health, perhaps seek to rework them to ensure that you can still have a fulfilling career. But do not fall sick as a result of that career.

Be flexible

One thing that grinds my gears is the way we unnecessarily attach age to goals. I think it is important not to box yourself in too soon, nor should your definition of success be stringent. You may need to alter long-term career plans as a result of sickle cell-related complications, and it is important you know that it is OK to do so.

I had planned to be where I am at this moment in my career three years earlier. However, due to my poor health during those years, it was impossible. The time it took to get to my current post is unimportant. I managed what was within my control to maintain good health, then flexed my goals and approach, which landed me my current role.

Be honest

Try to be as open as possible with your employer about having sickle cell and any support you may require. Employers can only offer support based upon the information you provide.

In closing, remain assured that you can achieve what you desire and are willing to work for irrespective of sickle cell. We can liken sickle cell to hiking boots. When you are going for a really long walk, your choice of footwear determines how comfortable your hike will be.

In a similar fashion, do the work that is necessary to ensure your condition is at bay, so that you’ll have as comfortable a hike as possible as you make your way up the career mountain!


Note: Sickle Cell Anemia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Anemia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell anemia.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.