CANCER.... it's a four letter word! As the benefit administrator for my company I see and hear this tragic word often. I hear employees' stories because they come to me with benefit questions, claims payment issues, personal finance issues because of medical expenses, etc. ... all related to cancer. What normally starts off being an issue with a claim ends up being a debriefing on the effects of cancer, the stories of being kept awake at night because of fear, the days of nausea from chemo or radiation, requests for prayer or encouraging words, listening to how they feel guilty about "being a burden on their families" or a disruption to their lives.etc. etc. etc.. I sometimes end up helping to counsel employees who are just going through a tough time. Really just a lot of listening... it's therapeutic for them.
What can I do or say other than offer words of encouragement, offer a reference to our EAP program, give them information on case management through our medical plan, instruct them on the ins & outs of their HSA or FSA?
Now I can tell them, "I know how you feel. I know what you and your family are going through."
You see in May of this year, my 81 year old father was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. It's been 3 months and I've gotten to know cancer very well. I know about the 90 minute drives to be with my dad during treatment or to go mow his lawn or take care of the car for mom. I know what it's like to order cases of Ensure Plus from Amazon.com to save a few dollars for my retired parents who are living on fixed income. I know what it's like to create a gofundme.com account to help my parents pay for medical bills, chemo and expensive cancer drugs. I know what it's like to tell my golfing or fishing buddies, "Thanks, but I can't go. I'm going to see dad this weekend." I know what it's like to leave work at 5:00pm, drive 90 minutes to my father's house to mow and weed-eat for almost 3 hours, then drive 90 minutes back home, shower and get in bed at 1:00am and have to be back at work at 7:00am Tuesday morning, exhausted. I know that I don't want sympathy. What I desire most from my friends, co-workers and family is understanding.
That perspective helps me to now see cancer from the more emotional side. I believe it helps me to show a greater heart for service to employees who need my help, expertise and knowledge to not only navigate the stormy sea that is the American healthcare system but to look them in the eye and say "We are in this together. No one fights cancer alone!". My dad recently confided that he had questions about being a burden, worried that it was so time-consuming to travel back and forth just to mow his lawn or any of the other things I've done over the past 3 months. I looked him in the eye and said, "Daddy, it's NOT a burden. Yes, it is a little inconvenient, I won't lie to you. But I really don't mind. I am happy to do anything I can for you. That's love and that's what family is for." I hugged him and told him, "I love you" as I got ready to go back home. It hit me hard again on the drive home that no one fights cancer alone.
That brings me to my final thought. I am grateful to be able to work for a company that offers good benefits, but more grateful to work somewhere that still allows me to assist my employees in a personal way... no referrals to an 800 number or off-shoring benefits support. If that is what your company does, I am not belittling that approach. I am just happy that I am that support for my employees! Employees know they can come to my office and I will assist them to resolve their issues with a personal touch. I am even more grateful because I can identify with those facing serious illnesses. I can offer them practical advice, where to find additional support or just simply listen to them while they debrief their situation. Listening really helps. I believe what they want most is understanding. And the comfort from knowing that NO ONE FIGHTS CANCER ALONE.
Support cancer awareness and cancer research. Find resources for you and your employees at www.cancer.org