Create a Supportive Work Environment
Many employees opt not to tell their employer about a cancer diagnosis out of fear that they may be fired, thrown off their career trajectory, or seen differently, Nellis said.
While many factors go into this highly personal decision, not disclosing a cancer diagnosis may make it harder for employees to access benefits. These may include employee support networks and reasonable accommodations, such as working from home or taking more frequent breaks.
“The way in which an employee feels safe enough to go and disclose, and to then discover the world that is available to them, comes down to trust,” Nellis explained.
Strong workplace leadership can go a long way in making cancer patients and survivors feel safe and supported, Dr Mysliwiec said.
Many different people at a company or organization can be leaders if they “can assess the situation and make adjustments necessary for their teammates,” she noted. “The leader that we want is one that can be accommodating while encouraging inclusion and transparency.”
Training managers to talk about medical conditions and connect workers with resources and benefits can foster a workplace culture in which employees feel they can disclose their cancer diagnosis, said Lynn Zonakis, principal of Zonakis Consulting and former managing director of health strategy and resources for Delta Air Lines, when speaking at the NCCN summit.
One such resource is Triage Cancer. This national nonprofit organization offers a range of free help to cancer patients and caregivers, from choosing and utilizing health insurance coverage to understanding disability and leave benefits. The organization also teaches medical providers about these issues.
“Health care professionals, and certainly the overarching cancer community, could be [providing more education to employees],” said Joanna Fawzy Morales, Esq, chief executive officer of Triage Cancer, when speaking at the NCCN summit.
Support Caregivers Too
In many cases, caregivers do not get the same level of support and benefits at work and through the health care team as patients themselves, Dr Jones noted.
“Caregivers have been left out there a little bit,” Dr Jones said. “I would like to see more traction in the caregiver space. Oftentimes, they share the anxiety, they share the fatigue, along with the patients.”
When employers are deciding on benefit policies, they should consider what could help employees who are caregivers of a cancer patient, Nellis said. Typically, caregivers need work flexibility, to take care of themselves, and have their mental health cared for, she explained.
However, “organizations that are often ill-equipped to manage a person on staff with cancer can be even more ill-equipped to manage the caregiver,” Nellis said.
Networks of cancer providers and clinics are becoming more aware of the need to help caregivers and develop programs, Dr Mysliwiec noted. WellMed has a caregiver support program that offers coaching and stress reduction skills for caregivers of patients with cancer and other illnesses.
1. Cancer Care in the Workplace: Building a 21st Century Workplace for Cancer Patients, Survivors, and Caretakers. NCCN Oncology Policy Summit. June 17, 2022.
2. 2018 Harris Poll Survey. Cancer and Careers. Published December 2018. Accessed June 26, 2022.