What’s the actual experience of dealing with the workplace while undergoing cancer treatment? At the 2018 Employers Cancer Care Summit, one woman told her story, and it wasn’t a particularly positive one from the perspective of the workplace role.

Mei-Lin Yee was 45 years old in 2009 when she learned of her diagnosis with Stage 4 cancer of unknown origin. Doctors gave her two years to live.

“I have had the opportunity to see and to live first-hand how a cancer diagnosis can be managed or, in many cases, mismanaged,” Yee, a patient rights advocate, told participants at the Feb. 27 event in Toronto.

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Yee noted that when it comes to thinking about cancer in the workplace, the first thing that often comes up is absence management. The issues include how long will the person will be away and the impact on co-workers. Those questions often don’t have a quick answer, said Yee, noting her own journey from diagnosis to treatment took six weeks.

“Six long weeks where I was trying to work, but I was in limbo. Could I accept the invitation to the meeting? Could I take on a project? Was I going to be out tomorrow because the hospital was going to call? I didn’t know. It was frustrating for me, but it was also as frustrating for my employer,” she said.

Yee also noted the expense of cancer goes beyond medication and treatment, with issues such as parking, babysitting, vitamins and physiotherapy bringing out-of-pocket costs into the range of hundreds of dollars per month for her personally. She noted that being able to keep someone at work and earning a living helps to reduce stress while managing the financial aspects of cancer treatment.

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Yee noted that despite legislation to protect employees from discrimination, workers not only have to realize there has been a breach of their rights but also have the strength to make a complaint. She suggested many patients end up walking away from a discriminating employer because they don’t want to waste energy fighting when they’re dealing with cancer.

Yee spoke of her own situation of losing out on a promotion and eventually walking away from her job. She also spoke of her experience of being uninsurable as someone with a terminal illness, despite having no evidence of the disease for four years and no treatments in that time.

“I am the face of what cancer will become. It will become a chronic illness. Even at the Stage 4 stage. We have so much to give. Don’t count us out.”

Read more coverage from the 2018 Employers Cancer Care Summit here

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

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