Employers should reach out early and often to employees facing a cancer crisis, according to a man with first-hand experience.

Asaph Benun told attendees at Benefits Canada’s 2017 Employers Cancer Care Summit in February his life took a major turn five years ago following his six-month-old son’s diagnosis with a rare blood cancer that doctors said left him with a 35 per cent chance of survival. Benun is now a board member at Ontario Parents Advocating for Children With Cancer, a group that guides families going through similar experiences.

“Any time is the right time” to reach out, he said. “Except maybe the very first couple of days,” he added, noting he could barely remember anything about the hours following his son Gabriel’s initial diagnosis.

“People are in shock; they don’t even think,” said Benun. “But right after, you should come over and let them know that you are part of their team.”

Read: Exclusive research results: How do employees with cancer feel about their benefit plans?

In Benun’s case, the family’s doctor sent Gabriel for tests amid suspicions something just wasn’t right. Within days of the results, Gabriel was in hospital preparing for an intensive burst of chemotherapy, while his family prepared for a new two-home existence: one at their house and one at the hospital.

“They told us, ‘He’s in the hospital and not leaving for a minimum six months. This is your life now. Get used to it,’” he said.

Benun said friends, family and work colleagues can all struggle to interact with people dealing with situations like his in the early days, for fear of upsetting them. In fact, he said that was the loneliest period when he would most appreciate human contact.

“It’s OK to talk and ask questions. Just avoid what I call street wisdom, like, ‘Things happen for a reason,’” said Benun. “Let the person share how they feel and see if they need anything.”

When it comes to offers of help, the more specific employers can be, the better, according to Benun.

“Don’t say, ‘Tell us anything,’ because nobody will tell you anything,” said Benun. Some examples, he noted, include sending someone to the hospital to collect laundry, bringing in meals, taking the other children to daycare.

Read: Immuno-oncology shows promise but cost concerns loom

Employers should also “follow up often,” because the family’s needs and mindset can change at any moment, depending on the stage of treatment, recovery or deterioration the patient is at, said Benun.

For Gabriel, the story had a happy ending. After an initial recovery, he relapsed before a bone marrow transplant brightened his outlook significantly. He’s now back at home with his parents and two older siblings and he attends preschool with his peers.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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