Compassion in the Workplace: A Breast Cancer Survivor Story

It hits you like a ton of bricks…”Your test results came back positive.”  Only it really doesn’t feel positive. As you go through all the stages of grief dealing with a cancer diagnosis, one factor (among many others, as you can imagine or have experienced) that quickly rises in importance is how this will affect your job — your employment, income, costs etc. For me, it turns out that this was a non-issue.  In fact, my employer and all the people that are Reid Middleton were some of the most supportive and compassionate in my support network.

That @#$%! Tumor

On February 4, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, Stage 3a, and a radical mastectomy was scheduled two weeks later on February 19. As the leader of the marketing team for the firm, I was active in several organizations, and visions of all the exciting things we were going to implement in 2014 vanished as I rushed against time to get transition plans in place during my absence.  All the while, I was dealing with emotions that tried to drag me down a rabbit hole of fear and shock.

As luck and good planning would have it, turns out I had checked that little box on the medical forms agreeing to pay a few bucks a month for short term disability.  If you have the option, this is something that I highly recommend doing. Long-term disability kicked in after three months. You never want this to happen to you, but if it does, this safeguard can help you through tough financial times.

Reid Middleton’s Compassion

With seven weeks of surgery recovery, five months of chemotherapy, and two months of radiation, the time frame for being out of work was significant.  I was able to work remotely a bit, but the marketing team rallied and did an amazing job during my absence.  A huge basket with a mix of houseplants arrived from the office the first week after surgery. I sent a thank you card to the office and updated them on my medical status; it is still on the bulletin board, months later.  The people here truly care.  One of my co-workers setup a website noting my special dietary needs and people signed up to bring us dinner;  each week we had a wonderful dinner that neither I nor my husband prepared.

Early in this process, my boss told me that he just wanted me to get well and not to worry about my job because they didn’t want someone else in my position.  It was my job as long as I wanted it and felt able to do it. That went a long way toward enabling me to take care of myself and not worry about my position in the firm.  In subsequent meetings, he said the same thing, and it has truly made a world of difference. I don’t know how many employers operate this way, but I think they are few and far between.

A Support Network I’ve Grown to Love

Each week throughout the surgery recovery, chemo, and radiation, I got a note, or flowers, or a thoughtful gift from a coworker, professional peer, friend, or family member.  I gratefully sent thank you notes. This dialogue, while outmoded with today’s social media channels, was another source of therapy.  The outpouring of support has been truly humbling and life changing. I began working part time midway through my chemotherapy because the treatment had gone from intensive to maintenance, and I felt well enough to begin to contribute to some level. Not a day went by that someone didn’t stop in and check with me on my well-being.

A Celebration

In October, I headed into a brainstorming session on our 2015 blog calendar, expecting lunch to be served. What I didn’t expect was the conference room to be filled with the women in the office, the tables laden with food, and pink and white decorations everywhere.  They had completely surprised me with a lunch celebration to honor my fight with breast cancer. A ‘photo booth’ was setup in one corner of the conference room, and you can see that we had a blast!

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My last radiation session was Monday, November 10. On Tuesday, I stayed home to rest and reflect on the ordeal. When I arrived in the office on Wednesday, I found that my office had been decorated in pink streamers, ribbon, table coverings, and balloons. I still don’t know who did it as no one will admit to it! Soon after, some of the ladies in the office came to the department, and we had a toast to celebrate the end of treatment. Because I hadn’t come in on Tuesday, I missed the organic pumpkin donuts that someone had made for the celebration, but I heard they were fabulous!

No one wants to experience the trauma of disease, but since I did, there is no place I would rather be than right here.