About two out of every five Canadians are likely to develop cancer in their lifetime and employers can be more supportive of their workers to help them cope with the disease.

At Benefits Canada’s Employers Cancer Care Summit this week, Dr. David MacDonald, a hematologist at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax and assistant professor of hematology at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Medicine, explained that someone who receives a cancer diagnosis is also concerned about work and other non-medical issues.

He used the example of “Bob,” a 62-year-old living in Truro, N.S., who was being briefed by his doctor about the specifics of his cancer and treatment options. When the doctor revealed he would have to commute to Halifax for his treatments, Bob worried about the fact that his wife, Mary, didn’t drive. When the doctor revealed that he would likely be off work for six months, Bob worried about how he and his wife would make ends meet. When the doctor revealed his odds of survival as 70%, Bob reflected on his 30% chance of death.

Dr. MacDonald noted that employers need to act as holistic supporters that can coordinate and reassure patients about the financial and practical aspects of the cancer diagnosis. “I want to impress on people that your decisions can make Bob’s life easier or harder,” he said.

After his presentation, Dr. MacDonald was emphatic about the divide between how he thinks about patient recovery as “returning to health” and the way many employers see it as “returning to work.” He said employers must have greater patience.

The challenges cancer patients face is that they often feel the employer is trying to push them back to work earlier than they are ready, rather than try to provide access to rehabilitative programs and emotional and psychological support, he explained.

“The experience that I have with patients is they’re handing me their back-to-work forms and I have to say to them, ‘how long can you carry a 10-pound box?’ That’s nonsense. That’s irrelevant. They’re tired and they can’t quantify that.”

“Rather than focusing on bringing them back to work, focus on programs that will help them facilitate their recovery more quickly,” Dr. MacDonald said, suggesting employers provide gym memberships or subsidize nutritional supplements. “Employers need to be more understanding and supportive of their experience.”

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Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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