I have watched someone close to me die of cancer. And it’s not easy. My mother passed away from neuroendocrine cancer almost two years ago, but I remember how quickly she became skeletal, barely recognizable, struggling just to breathe.

It wasn’t unexpected—she had already well surpassed the initial brutally short prognosis. But my husband and I had just moved to a new home in a new city, we were both working full-time, we had a demanding two-year-old, and I was pregnant with our second child.

My employer was understanding and compassionate, giving me the flexibility, time off and support I needed. But not all employees are this fortunate.

Cancer touches so many people: those who are ill, their caregivers, their friends and families. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for about 30% of all deaths. A recent study by BMO Insurance found that 68% of women have been affected by cancer, whether through a family member or through a personal diagnosis.

And the burden of cancer is more than just mental and physical. The Canadian Cancer Society notes that the annual household wage loss from cancer is nearly $18,000—a large sum for many—and one out of six Ontario cancer patients has reported that out-of-pocket costs were significant or unmanageable.

Now, think about all of these numbers in terms of Canadian workers who need support.

Employers may be concerned about infringing on an employee’s privacy, but there are many ways to help.

Give employees the time off they need, and allow flexibility in their schedules. Train managers on how to help employees who are dealing with a serious illness—or caring for those who are ill—because both groups need guidance and support. If you offer an employee and family assistance program, ensure that employees understand what’s available. Such programs may include counselling services and caregiver resources, but they’re often underutilized. Along with drug and disability benefits, some employers offer critical illness insurance to lessen the financial burden. There are also cancer assistance programs that can help patients navigate our increasingly complex healthcare system.

I have watched someone close to me die of cancer, and it’s not easy. But I hope that, as an employer, you’ll do what you can to make it just a little bit easier for your employees.

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Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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