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Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation? Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

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  #1  
Unread 02-16-2014, 08:21 AM
Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

Hi everyone. I appreciate all of you who have posted in these forums. Your words here are truth and comfort.

I am newly diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and will need surgery, chemo and radiation. I work full-time and I am concerned about my job and health benefits. I am an "exempt" employee (not hourly). I don't want to say a lot about my job as my mgr or co-workers may see this post. I'll just say that it is a professional type job, but not a desk job.

I know about FMLA of course. My concern is that FMLA will run out before my treatment ends. Hopefully, I can work during part of the treatment phase.

If you were working full-time when you were diagnosed, can you address how you balanced work and treatment? Thanks so much.
  #2  
Unread 02-16-2014, 10:07 AM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

Hi Dee,

I worked full time during my treatment, which was 6 cycles of Taxol/Carboplatin. It was a major concern for me whether I should continue working or not, as I'm a teacher.

I cleared the way 1st with my boss, who was very supportive of me and told me she'd support me with anything I decided to do.

I lined up my sub (my SISTER, who's a retired teacher but had never subbed before.)

I took off my day of chemo and the next two days with every cycle except for the last two, which had the worst side effects...mainly fatigue and bone aches. Those 2 cycles I took off 5 full days and had the weekend as well. I needed every bit of that time.

The good thing is you recover pretty quickly after chemo and are completely feeling good before the next round.........energy and all.

I was careful to send kids to the nurse if they complained of a headache, etc., and she kept them in the clinic until parents picked them up. Used lots of clorox spray on their desks which they scrubbed daily. I never picked up any of their illnesses even though it was flu season and there were stomach virus, flu, and even strep all around me.

You'll get through this.........and before you know it there will just be a distant memory of all of this! Believe me, if I can do it, you can too!

Hugs from me to you!
  #3  
Unread 02-16-2014, 10:21 AM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

Dee5678, Sorry to hear that you'll be needing so much treatment. My employer has short term disability insurance, so I was able to take 5 weeks off after surgery without losing pay. For my 5 brachytherapy treatments and doctor appointments I take sick or vacation time, I'm allowed to use it hourly. I was pretty up-front with my boss and co-workers once I got my surgery date. They were super understanding . I work on my feet a lot, but my co-workers had saved up all the paperwork while I was out so had a week's worth of desk work to do when I went back. My radiation treatments didn't take too much out of me so I only had to take a half day for each of those and only because it was a long drive. Since you are exempt, your employer's main concern is whether your function is covered. Any way you can work a bit from home, do half days? I think if you can be as cooperative as possible in helping them plan for your absence it would be a good thing. Do you supervise people, are you the only one who knows how to do your job? It's always hard to let go of control, especially if you fear for your job security. You really don't need financial and career pressure at this moment in your life, hope you are able to concentrate on getting better. Good luck!
  #4  
Unread 02-16-2014, 02:31 PM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

Like everything else how much you will be able to work depends on how you react to treatments and what kind of radiation treatment you will be having, and how long you've been having treatments. I had 3 treatments of carbo/taxol 3 weeks apart, then 6 weeks of daily radiation with low dose cisplatin, then another 3 treatments of carbo/taxol. My initial experience with the carbo/taxol was pretty much as described above. With the cisplatin I had significant vomiting the first weekend and had a rougher time from then on. Also, between the daily radiation, weekly cisplatin and hydration flushes, I just didn't have much time to work. During this time I was able to work a little bit at home. For my final three treatments I was able to work more, but not as much as I was during my initial 3 treatments.

I had enough accumulated sick leave and vacation, so I never went on Fmla. I did fill out the paperwork for it though so that my time off of work would be credited appropriately in case I needed it. I work for a large organization and occasionally there are requests for people to donate leave/vacation time for people getting treatments who have run out of benefits. Please talk to your HR person to determine what all your rights and options are.

Take care.
  #5  
Unread 02-16-2014, 04:52 PM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

  Quote:
Originally Posted by Dee5678 View Post
...
If you were working full-time when you were diagnosed, can you address how you balanced work and treatment? Thanks so much.
I'm an exempt employee, with a desk job. I took off 4 weeks of FMLA for my surgery (I thought I'd be ready to go back after two or three weeks, but I was too fatigued and it hurt to sit up for more than a couple hours at a time).

Then for chemo, I would be off for the day of chemo because it took all day, then the next day I'd go to the office because I was still pumped up on all the steroids they give with it, then I'd work the next day of the cycle but was starting to go downhill, and might have taken off early one time but was lucky that it coincided with a holiday early-out at work, then days 3 through 5 of each cycle I didn't feel well enough to work. But, usually a couple of those days were the weekend so I didn't actually have to take off work. Days 6 and 7 I worked from home. By day 8 I would work at the office but had to nibble on pretzels and water all day to keep nausea at bay. I had 3 chemo treatments carbo/taxol, once every three weeks (except one week my blood counts were too low and so I had to wait an extra week).

I used sick leave days for all the time I took off for chemo.

I did not need external radiation, if I had I suppose I would have needed to use more FMLA.

I am getting internal vaginal brachytherapy radiation, three treatments, each one week apart.
My first appointment it was decided my vaginal cuff had separated a little and was not healed, so I went back to work and made up the time that day.
My next appointment everything was a go and the appt took a couple hours plus an hour of traveling/parking/etc, and I went back to work afterwards but only madeup 2 of the 3 hrs.
I haven't had my next two brachytherapies yet, but they should only take an hour (including travel time), so I will just make up the time the same day.

I did not catch any illnesses during chemo, so I didn't miss any days of work for that. I did blow my nose constantly though! Also I have great coworkers and whenever they felt sick they worked from home to protect me (or anyway, they used me as an excuse to work from home! ha).

Good luck with your treatments!
  #6  
Unread 02-16-2014, 08:25 PM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

My employer doesn't offer sick leave so for me it would be leave without pay for the time I couldn't work. Some of my absences due to treatment would be protected under FMLA, of course.

It's very heartening and encouraging to hear stories from survivors with accommodating employers. Thanks for your replies and well wishes.

I love this forum. So much good info. I appreciate every post!
  #7  
Unread 02-16-2014, 09:26 PM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

The good thing about FMLA is that you can take it individual day increments, or even half-days. Another thing to keep in mind is your bloodwork. If your white cell count gets too low, your doctor may advise that you remain housebound until your counts go back up. When your counts get too low, even a simple cold could turn life-threatening. Some of that depends on what kind of work environment you're in. If you work around children and your counts get low, you would be at a higher risk for getting sick. Having a desk job will hopefully work to your advantage. Does your employer offer short-term disability pay in addition to FMLA? That could be an option too.

  #8  
Unread 02-17-2014, 04:39 AM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

  Quote:
Originally Posted by Dee5678 View Post
...It's very heartening and encouraging to hear stories from survivors with accommodating employers. Thanks for your replies and well wishes.

I love this forum. So much good info. I appreciate every post!
I'm going to put my two cents in as an accommodating employer. A few years back, a key employee at a charity of which I'm the treasurer was diagnosed with lung cancer. In her case, chemo was the first step of treatment rather than the last.

We have a busy office, much frequented by members of the public looking for advice and support. Because of this, the employee's doctor warned her that she wouldn't be able to come into the office during the entire period that she was undergoing chemo (i.e., not just the specific days on which she had treatment). The reason was that her immune system would be compromised, leaving her vulnerable to any germs (cold, flu, etc) brought into the office.

The employee asked for permission to work from home instead. There was no way we would be able to hire a short-term replacement for her, so we figured that we'd might as well pay her instead! She ended up having far more good days than bad days and was able to get a significant amount of work done from home, with some support from other staff members (for example, delivering/picking up documents that could not be sent via e-mail).

Please do take the immune system factor into account as you make plans for handling this situation. Good luck!
  #9  
Unread 02-17-2014, 05:10 AM
Re: Full time employee: how to handle job with major surgery, chemo, radiation?

Thanks for that good advice, Mischief586. My job doesn't require me to be around children, but adults can make you sick too, and I get what you're saying.

SurprisedInNB, your post really made my day!
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