Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cancer Survivor Faces Deadly Career Gap

Read Time: 5 minutes

This is the epic story of the birth of the brand NED, which stands for Not Entirely Dead, a brand inspired by Eason Yang’s personal cancer treatment experience. Doctors use the term NED when all symptoms of cancer are gone –– which, in their terms, means “No Evidence of Disease.” Once Eason reached that status, he discovered he faced another challenge –– a career gap. The new NED brand is designed to fill that deadly career gap on resumes and erase the prevailing cancer survivor bias in the workplace. Eason is one of over 600,000 young cancer survivors (aged 16 to 39) in the U.S. alone, ready to work again.

Eason was hit with the career gap challenge on a Zoom call with a Senior Vice President of a Fortune 100 company –– a Zoom that followed weeks of highly encouraging back and forth with mid and senior level executives at the company. The position was that of design director. Eason’s hopes were high, given his background and the comfort he’d felt with the initial interviews.

Once the pleasantries were accomplished, the SVP paused, looked down at the paper copy of Eason’s resume, and said…

“Well, maybe five years ago…”

He paused again for a moment.

Then… “Maybe five years ago, you could have led a team, but now…”

He shook his head and put my resume aside.

“Now, I think you need to show us a little more team-leading experience.” And with that, he ended the call.

“Crushed. I was crushed.” That’s how Eason told me this story. It was this painful rejection that helped him realize how formidable a barrier cancer driven career gaps really are.

It didn’t matter that the interviewer was an asshole. It didn’t matter that Eason knew he’d rise above this. That he knew he was resilient. He had already survived far worse than this. He survived cancer. He was alive.

Still, he cried.

Gaps are a red flag. Mostly, employers don’t want to deal with those who don’t have a documented, step-by-step career path. Seeing a career gap, recruiters first think, “what the heck were they doing?” Resumes with employment gaps of any kind can get cast aside simply because of the gap.

Eason added: “People with career gaps are seen as damaged goods.”

A cancer survivor gap is worse. It raises the question of will they really survive? Will the cancer return? If we hire them, if we invest in them, will they stay long enough for our investment to pay off? Or maybe they’re weak, not up to the work demands. Perhaps, after the cancer experience, they won’t provide the total devotion to career that we expect. Perhaps they just don’t have what it takes to be an “A” player.

We don’t know what was going through Eason’s interviewer’s mind. We do know that Eason and his gap-revealing resume had gotten past several levels of corporate scrutiny before reaching the SVP. And we know that Eason’s work as a design director for several Silicon Valley companies, concluding with Uber –– plus his returning to graduate school to complete a master’s degree in design –– got him the attention of senior executives, despite his five years of fighting cancer.

All this made the rejection that much more painful.

The people who reject cancer survivors or don’t want to deal with them have no idea of a survivor’s power and resilience. They’ve faced death head-on. They’ve seen the impact of cancer on their bodies. Discussed their own deaths with those closest and often made plans for their own demise. And along the way, they managed to survive the treatment and reach the No Evidence of Disease status.

No Evidence of Disease, NED. For Eason, there was inspiration in that phrase. Inspiration beyond the pleasure of knowing he’d reached NED status.

Reaching No Evidence of Disease with its acronym, NED, made Eason want to scream to potential employers and, pretty much, everyone else that he was Not Entirely Dead.

Eason knew that all cancer survivors face the same barrier. With that mental leap came his Master of Design thesis and the creation of the NED brand –– NED now meaning Not Entirely Dead. Now Eason had a new challenge, a career gap marking the time spent dealing and healing from cancer –– the treatments and the aftermath.

Eason also knew that what survivors have that others don’t is a high level of resilience. Basically, if cancer doesn’t kill, you get strength. You get resilience, plus a whole bunch of soft skills like empathy, determination, ownership, dedication, and grit. Survivors have a visceral understanding of what’s at stake when challenged. Soft skills that, we’re told are highly prized in today’s job market.

No one wants to reach the top like someone who has hit bottom. Fighting cancer is one of the most challenging jobs an individual will ever have. It deserves a place on the resume. It’s an asset, not a liability. The competencies cancer survivors cultivate through adversity are Super-Abilities, not disabilities, as workplace biases suggest.

Today, NED, Not Entirely Dead, helps cancer survivors re-entering the job market by providing a brand that stands for these Super-Abilities. And NED can be included in resumes to fill the gap during which survivors were unemployed.

On a pragmatic note, cancer survivors can add NED as an employer on their LinkedIn profiles, filling their employment gap on that vital social channel and connect with the NED community worldwide. The more who join NED on LinkedIn, the more social impact it has.

Eason Yang, founder of NED, is on a mission to tell the world that cancer survivors have more to offer the workplace, not less. As of this writing, Eason has…

  • Presented the NED cause and brand as Graduating Speaker of the University of Washington
  • Exhibited the NED story at the Henry Art Gallery
  • Headlined NED at this year’s Global Design Graduate Show, sponsored by Gucci and Arts Thread
  • Represented NED at the Seattle Design Festival
  • Told the NED story at Creative Mornings, the first live presentation since Covid

Eason is now living his most significant achievement: four years of being NED –– No Evidence of Disease, Not Entirely Dead.

Eason is very aware of the millions of others with career gaps who are viewed as “damaged goods.” Mothers who take more than the prescribed time away from work to nurture children or others are a prime example. And there are millions of survivors aged 40-60 who are still of prime working age. For now, NED is focused on cancer survivors aged 19-39, Eason’s cohort. That could be expanded as the process of learning how NED can help those with career gaps continues.

Finally, if you notice that the NED logo looks a bit like an elephant, be assured it was intentional. Eason Yang is deliberately calling attention to the ‘elephant in the room’ and the soft skills gained through harrowing experiences that cancer survivors have in abundance.

If you are a cancer survivor or know one, please connect with NED on LinkedIn or at:


  • Jean-Marc Curell says:

    First and foremost, you have my heartfelt thank you and gratitude for bringing this topic to the forefront. I was diagnosed through the national cancer institute in 2005 with a very insidious cancer called multicentric Castlemans. Through the grace of the universe I am cancer free, however, the repercussions of having large gaps in, my résumé left me helpless to battle preconceived notions a potential employers allowed to loan everyone else. It has been a lifelong struggle. Simply put. To this day I am not at the level I once was professionally or socially before my cancer diagnosis. No matter how confident I am, and what I can do there in lies the rub. Others have always dictated how far up to the stars I may reach. This continues to be a struggle.

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