Cancer is Not Contagious
7 August 2013: That cancer is contagious is just one of the myths that cancer survivors often come across in the workplace. In the run up to its Relay For Life Corporate Event on 5th & 6th October 2013, CANSA, is placing the spotlight on managing cancer in the workplace. The annual Corporate Event taking place at Denel, Irene Campus, not only honours cancer survivors and caregivers, it also aims to create awareness of the challenges both employees and companies experience when having to deal with the dreaded disease.
This fun-filled, overnight team experience gives a ‘face and a voice’ to cancer survivors, as well as an opportunity for corporate companies and businesses to show their support by committing to fight back against cancer. Organised by a corporate volunteer committee, corporate team members take turns walking a track from 5pm to 6am the following morning in an effort to fight cancer while building team spirit, raising funds for CANSA, as well as corporate networking.
Coping at work
Elise Fourie (Survivor Chair of the Organising Committee), a counselling psychologist and cancer survivor, is only too familiar with issues cancer survivors have to navigate their way through, trying to cope at work, while undergoing treatment and recovery.
“Avoiding cancer survivors in the workplace is often a coping mechanism for their colleagues,” says Elise. “If you don’t have to deal with the person, you don’t have to think about the disease.”
Just as upsetting as being avoided, is the widespread ignorance around cancer. “There are still people who act as if cancer is contagious,” says Elise who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer about 10 years ago.
Making a Difference
“When I heard the words ‘You’ve got cancer’, my whole world turned upside down. But once I had researched the illness, went through the treatment and made a recovery, I decided that I would try to somehow make a small difference in the lives of other survivors.”
Elise fights cancer by helping to create awareness about the disease and how to manage it through media interviews and talks, as well as through counselling cancer survivors at her practice, many of whom have battled to cope in the workplace.
*Empathy – “Cancer survivors often try to hide their condition from their employers for as long as possible. While many companies have made provision for people with the dreaded disease, there really is not a lot of empathy for the survivors in the workplace.”
“One of my patients complained that her employer and colleagues thought that she had become stupid, while her brain was still fine and she only needed time to recover from the chemotherapy.”
*Empathy is trying to put yourself in someone’s shoes – feeling with them, as opposed to feeling sorry for them which is defined as sympathy.
Position of Strength
One of her patients, who had resigned because of a lack of empathy at her work, while she was undergoing treatment, was later asked to come back by the same company. “She went back from a position of strength and was more assertive and could negotiate a better position, determined not to let the workplace get the better of her again.”
Elise says it’s a two-way street. “While employers need to be empathetic, survivors need to guard against feelings of worthlessness. If possible, survivors need to continue to work, as it gives them a sense of purpose. That said, survivors should not return to work sooner than they should and must never be placed in a position where they are afraid of losing their jobs.”
For Elise, her diagnosis and subsequent recovery from cancer has led her to have more fun and build more special moments into her life. “I am still a workaholic, but I now purposefully create memories. When people get the point where their lives appear to be coming to an end, they don’t think about their jobs or their material possessions, they treasure those special times they shared with others.”
Enter a team
Corporate teams are encouraged to participate, early bird registrations are only R2 000 per team with proceeds to CANSA – enter before 31 August 2013. To register, go to http://www.cansa-corporate-relay.co.za/or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Employers can do:
- Find out all you can about cancer and its prevalence and create awareness about the disease among your staff. You need to understand that the chances are good that there will be people in your company who have been or will be diagnosed with cancer or who have been affected by cancer. Be aware of the effect that diagnosis will have on the survivor and their colleagues.
- If or when your employees are diagnosed, take time to discuss how you can help them with their expected cancer journey – inclusive of treatment to follow, possible side effects, sick leave, affordability of treatment, their ability to continue working during and after treatment and their support systems at work and home.
- Be sensible, don’t overact. Be empathetic. Know that it’s not contagious and if at all possible, employees should be encouraged to carry on working.
What Employees need to do:
- You need to talk to your employer as soon as possible after your diagnosis. They need the following info – diagnosis, nature of your treatment and possible effects it will have on you to enable them to assess how it will affect your work capabilities in your working environment.
- Go in with solutions. Suggest ways in which you will be able to continue to cope with your work and what your employer can do to help you to continue to be productive.
- Be confident and assertive. While you are undergoing treatment and feel tired and weak, you may want to give up and resign or would even accept unfair treatment from your employer. Know your rights according to the companies’ dread diseases protocol and if not in place, help them to develop one. If you do perceive that there is a process of discrimination against you, be brave enough to confront the situation.
- Surround yourself with support. Not just your loved ones, family and friends but include your colleagues and mentors that can help you maintain a sense of equilibrium.
- Always act in a responsible manner to yourself and your employer. Don’t abuse the kindness of your employer and colleagues as it may create prejudice for future cancer survivors in your working place.
About CANSA and Relay For Life
For more information, please contact Munnik Marais, CANSA’s Head: Business Development or email: email@example.com, call 012 329 3036 or cell: 083 268 8701. Or visit www.cansa.org.za or call CANSA toll-free 0800 22 66 22, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org – Follow CANSA on Twitter and join CANSA on Facebook.