When the doctor delivered the diagnosis of breast cancer, Ann was stunned. Everyone encouraged her to slow down and make her health the top priority. However, she quickly made it clear that although she was determined to fight, she needed a sense of normalcy. For my dear sister, this meant she was going to keep up her work routine and nothing would slow her down.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of January 2021, breast cancer is the most common cancer globally. About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime and, though less common, men are at risk too. When people are faced with breast cancer, many want to maintain their familiar daily routine, like working or exercising. In fact, cancer survivors only spend an average of two weeks less out of work than their coworkers.
Employers can make a difference in the recovery process for employees. Here are several ways:
Provide open communication – Open communication with the employee will help the employer determine any physical limitations the individual may be contending with. With the wide range of treatment options available, people diagnosed with breast cancer have a high rate of recovery. However, depending on the course of treatment and how they respond, the individual may be dealing with fatigue, strained focus and a weakened immune system. A supportive employer will communicate often while responding quickly to the individual’s need. Providing feedback, coaching on performance, and pointing to available resources during the recovery and return-to-work process will be beneficial to both the employer and employee.
Be Flexible – Flexibility supports an employee who is battling cancer. The individual’s work role may have to be adjusted in consideration of their health. A flexible work schedule should also be considered to facilitate treatment sessions and recovery. It may be appropriate to reduce the workload. Encouraging breaks is another way to reduce the individual’s stress level since the everyday physical battle can take a toll on the individual’s mental health. Unum’s Behavioral Health Solution guides workers to the support that is right for them, including access to a licensed therapist and a library of mental health resources. In addition, sitting or standing for too long can be problematic on a weakened system.
Provide workstation and COVID-19 related safety adjustments – A 2020 WHO survey revealed that treatment for cancer had been disrupted in more than 40% of countries during the pandemic. There was a hike in diagnosis delays, and unfortunately, also in interruptions and abandonment of treatment. This clearly had negative results. Employers should give special considerations to individuals navigating a cancer diagnosis in the post COVID-19 world. Employees with suppressed immune systems may need adjustments that enable them to practice social and physical distancing. A modified workspace or remote work will reduce the risk of transmission. In addition, an adjustable desk that can move from a sitting to standing position will help with employee fatigue. Having an employer who accommodates to meet the individual where they are will make a big difference in the employee’s return to normalcy.
Even as patients diagnosed with cancer push through, some find themselves at a place where they need to scale back for a time or step away. Colonial Life’s Cancer Insurance is there to help people focus on finding the best treatment rather than worrying about how to pay the bills. It offers benefits to assist with out-of-pocket costs that may not be covered by medical insurance. This includes expenses related to inpatient or outpatient treatment, surgery, travel and recovery care.
For those who find themselves needing to step away for a time, having crucial income protection during this time of uncertainty is a necessity. Unum’s Disability Insurance will give employees battling cancer peace of mind. According to claims data from Unum, the average length of a short-term disability claim for breast cancer was 64 days over the past decade, and the first nine months of this year saw breast cancer claims lasting 57 days. That’s a lot of time away from work and without a paycheck. Disability insurance can help employees keep their finances on track, and it’s one more way for employers to provide well-needed support in troubling times.
For Ann, she bravely battled breast cancer. Her resolve to work did not wane. It kept her going and gave her purpose outside of the daunting shadow that this disease cast. That desire to continue working is quite common. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021 we will have 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in the US alone.
Employers who provide open communication, are flexible, and provide special considerations, particularly in the post COVID-19 world, will help employees know how much they are valued. They will appreciate their employer’s efforts to boost their confidence and provide stability as they navigate the road to recovery.