Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Asking for support at work
Life moves very fast, but when a cancer diagnosis comes, everything suddenly comes to a halt. From the moment of diagnosis, a patient is called upon to learn a new vocabulary, manage strong emotions, and carve out time for appointments and therapies from packed schedules. Physical health and mental health are pushed to the limit. And while, fortunately, survival rates have never been better, for many people, the emotional and physical effects of a cancer diagnosis can be long-lasting.
Given that we all lead such busy lives, I have been wondering how we can start a dialogue about how to give working women better support as they journey through breast cancer.
By the numbers
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. One woman is diagnosed every 10 minutes. In fact, every year, around 55,000 UK women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Just over 10,000 of those are diagnosed while under the age of 50, and of these, around 7,600 women will be in their 40s — women in the prime of their lives and their careers. The good news is that in the UK, breast cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the past 40 years. This is thanks to improvements in earlier detection through screening, as well as the use of more effective multi-disciplinary therapies.
Lowering barriers to testing and screening
The earlier a cancer is detected, the sooner it can be treated. Screening with mammography is the most effective way to detect disease early, and with surgical tools like MOLLI®, lesions can be removed at the earliest stage. To help people, especially women, gain access to timely, affordable, and effective breast health care services, we can start with structural barriers that lessen or eliminate non-economic obstacles. For example:
- Leaders should empower employees by raising awareness that screening is important and supported. For example, at MOLLI Surgical we offer as much sick leave as you need to take care of your health.
- Offer mobile services, such as mammography vans, in the workplace
- Look for ways to help make it easier to:
- Schedule procedures
- Navigate the system
- Get transportation to appointments
- Obtain childcare
- Get translation services
The balance between privacy and support
Informative communication between employers and employees with breast cancer can help. For example, does everyone in the office understand the sick leave policy? Is an employer supporting screening through paid sick leave and raising awareness? Are doctor's notes truly required for appointments, or do they create an additional burden? Are the short-term disability resources available through the employer (and through public resources) clearly communicated?
Many people — for many reasons — do not wish to disclose their breast cancer diagnosis so we must make sure we respect that desire for privacy, while still helping patients access the support that is available. Making resources readily accessible to them, empowering people to self-advocate for their health and mental well-being, and raising awareness about supportive organisations in their communities are some of the ways to support women in the workplace.
Words: Ananth Ravi, CEO of MOLLI Surgical