In October, I watched a live streaming webinar offered by Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), called, “Stories from the Field: You, Your Job and Breast Cancer.” The presentation covered issues, such as, disclosure, accommodations, and seeking a new job. The panel consisted of a social worker, an attorney, and three survivors. I have to admit, this was a great experience because it was a question and answer type of session. Basically, I’m here in Hawaii on my computer watching this live presentation and the best part is, I was able to participate in it. I was able to text in my questions and the panel of guests tries to answer them. What I found to be interesting with the three survivors was that although they had similar concerns, such as working while undergoing treatments and legal questions about their rights; each of them had a different experience with how their employers dealt with their diagnosis. Some were very lucky to have employers that understood the situation at hand; while others, they found themselves not only having to deal with the cancer, but also the possibility of losing their job.
The cancer itself takes a toll on our body – physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, with the feelings of possibly losing our job, it can also take a toll on the person financially. Unfortunately, I was one who lost my job while battling breast cancer. At that initial shock of losing my job, it felt like someone kicking you while you’re down.
"At that initial shock of losing my job, it felt like someone kicking you while you’re down."
In the beginning of my journey, I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” How was I supposed to react to that? Well, I just felt numb and didn’t realize what I was writing down as the doctor spoke to me about what was expected in the next few weeks – scans, tests, and numerous doctor appointments. The conversation ended with, “ask your employer about FMLA.” I was confused, considering I didn’t know what FMLA was or why I needed to speak with my employer. Maybe I was just ignorant or not aware of the fact that I needed to protect my job. I figured that since I’ve been working hard, my job would protect me. Aside from what I thought was the most important issues I needed to deal with in my journey (treatments, side-effects, and so on), I then knew that I hit a bump on the road – my job was on the line.
Many people go through cancer trying to balance everything in their life – and to also include their new diagnosis. You then have to think about whether or not you’re able to work full time or let alone work at all. So, what happens if you can’t work; what happens to your job? There are so much to think about and it becomes overwhelming.
As I went to work the next few days, I contemplated on when would be the best time to tell my supervisor, co-workers, and the HR of my breast cancer diagnosis. I knew I needed to tell our HR so that my paperwork could be processed. To be honest, before I spoke with HR, I had to do some research on what FMLA was and what it offers so that I could ask the right questions. So what is FMLA? According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), FMLA is short for Family Medical Leave Act. It entitles eligible employees unpaid medical leave for 12 workweeks within a 12-month period. During this period, your job is protected. There are guidelines to determine whether one is eligible and here’s a link from the DOL website that can provide more information.
I was fortunate to be provided with FMLA, but when the time came to fully return to work after exhausting the 12 workweeks, I was not in any shape to fully return to work -- I lost my job. So what now? I had to continue fighting for my life and on top of that, find resources that will assist me financially. The road at this point was bumpy, but with help from my family, I was able to manage being unemployed for a while; however that didn’t hold up too long.
A few months after chemotherapy and radiation, I was cleared by my doctors to return to work. I thought at this point in my journey, the road would be clear. Well, I was wrong -- there were few more bumps on the road. Now, it was time to look for a job…let the job searching begin! While job searching and actually going to a few job interviews, I faced many issues, such as how to go about sharing my diagnosis or if I even had to tell them? How do I ask for accommodations if I need any? These are the types of questions that were asked during the webinar presentation. One of the websites they mentioned that may be of help is from Cancer and Careers. Here, you can find information on job hunting after treatments, building your resume, and so on. I find this resource to be helpful and the best part is, the information can be downloaded or sent to your home for free.
Although my journey has been long and bumpy, I never lost track in taking care of myself, especially during my treatments. As life goes on, I will continue to fight on and yes, continue with the job hunting. At least this time, I will have the resources I gathered from the webinar. If you were not able to participate in this webinar, there will be others that you can join. Please check out our events calendar for an updated schedule of webinars that are being offered. On Wednesday (December 14th), Cancer and Careers will offer a webinar related to the challenges of balancing work and cancer. For more information, visit their website. In addition, LBBC’s December “Ask the Expert” deals with financial and career concerns. How it works is that throughout December, you can ask the expert a question and they will post answers on an ongoing basis.
If there are any other information that I happen to stumble on during my job hunting or other resources that can be of any help, I will definitely share them with you. Until then, happy job hunting I will go...