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MC Community Event: Maneuvering the Workplace When You Have Cancer
Posted: Apr 30, 2021
MC Community Event: Maneuvering the Workplace When You Have Cancer image

Being diagnosed with myeloma can be overwhelming for so many reasons. In the beginning, you aren't sure how the disease will affect you, how aggressive it might be, what your reactions to medications could be, and how long your lifespan will be. On top of all of those serious and pressing questions comes another (to patients and caregivers alike), "Should I continue working?"

Myeloma Financial Coach, Diahanna Vallentine, presented to her Chapter within the Myeloma Community Events Program on April 6th to hit this topic. In her role as a professional financial advisor and former myeloma caregiver, Diahanna has had plenty of experience with people questioning whether or not continuing to work is right for them after being diagnosed with myeloma. 

Her presentation is full of sound advice, and the Q&A afterward is full of applicable and creative answers to some tough questions. Make sure to watch or read the summary below! 

There are some obvious needs why one might need to continue working, such as income, employer insurance, or other family needs. However, there might be more reasons to continue working that are less obvious, such as the sense of community and self-worth that comes from being in the workplace, or even the simple need for normalcy in a world that feels like it's being uprooted. 

As a newly diagnosed patient (and maybe later down the road as well), you will want to consider these things before making the decision about whether or not to stay in the workplace: 

  • Gather all the information from your doctors regarding treatment, side effects, treatment times, etc. to give you a better picture of what's ahead.
  • Talk to your doctor about your specific job requirements- does your treating physician recommend that you continue working after taking into account the demands of your job? 
  • Review your employer benefits in case you have to take work off: 
    • Can you work from home? Is there flex-work available? 
    • Do you have sick time, vacation time, FMLA, or disability time that you can take? 
    • Are your coworkers able to "donate" their sick or vacation days to you if needed? 
  • How many employees does your employer have? Are they included in the ADA or the FMLA acts? (ADA requires 15 employees, FMLA requires 50)
  • What are your state's ADA or FMLA laws? Do they differ from federal law?

After gathering this information, when you talk to your boss or employer about your diagnosis, it's important to know what your rights and options are. Who do you talk to at your place of employment, when do you talk to them, and what do you say? 

A lot of the conversation will depend on your familiarity and comfort level with your manager and coworkers. The most important part to know is that you are not required to give specifics about your illness. What you do need to communicate with them is that there might be effects you experience that will cause you to not do your job the way you are supposed to be doing it. 

Follow the following guidelines: 

  • Start with HR. They are aware of HIPAA regulations and will not disclose your information to your supervisor unless absolutely needed. 
  • Together you can discuss what you need in order to continue your job. Communicate with HR what you learned from your doctor about where are now in your treatment, where you anticipate being, and what modification or changes are needed in the workplace due to this information. 
  • Understand that this conversation needs to be fluid- you cannot say "I need two weeks off", because you have no idea of knowing how you will react to certain treatments, how you are going to feel, etc. Communicate that this will be ongoing for some time and your physical abilities might ebb and flow. 
  • You can also communicate this information to your supervisor if you do not have an HR department or if you have a strong relationship with your supervisor and prefer this method of communication.

Make sure that you consider all of your options before making your decision of whether or not to continue work, especially when it comes to health insurance. Look at COBRA and its cost as well as ACA (affordable care act) options. Review your life insurance. Review Health Savings and Flexible Savings Accounts. Understand the ACA (affordable care act) and buying from the marketplace. Be aware of your rights to file appeals. All of this is very important information to consider when navigating the workplace with a cancer diagnosis. 

Diahanna explains much more during her discussion such as the FMLA, ADA and Rehabilitation acts, and what reasonable accommodations in the workplace could look like for those who need them. 

Watch the video to learn more from an expert and don't forget to see if your questions were answered in the Q&A! 

If you are would like to hear more from Diahanna, register for the Myeloma Financial Coach Chapter by clicking the button below.


Join the Myeloma Financial Coach Chapter


The author Audrey Burton-Bethke

about the author
Audrey Burton-Bethke

Audrey is the Editor for the HealthTree Foundation for Multiple Myeloma. She originally joined the HealthTree Foundation in 2020 as the Myeloma Community Program Director. While not knowing much about myeloma initially, she worked hard to educate herself, empathize and learn from others' experiences. She loves this job. Audrey is passionate about serving others, loves learning, and enjoys iced chais from Dutch Bros. She also loves spending time with her supportive husband and energetic three-year-old. 

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