When manager Marie Dieter learned one of her employees had a resurgence of an aggressive form of breast cancer, Dieter wanted to ensure her team member had all the support she needed.
“Coming to work was a normalcy for her and something she wanted to do as long as possible,” Dieter recalls of her employee, who passed away last year. “My job wasn’t to put up roadblocks; it was to make work manageable,” she says.
Their first step was calling nurse navigator Marie Borsellino from Managing Cancer at Work, a program available for any Johns Hopkins Medicine employee. The program—for employees who have cancer, manage someone with a cancer diagnosis or are caregivers for someone with cancer—helps staff members approach difficult conversations about a cancer diagnosis and educates them on available resources.
Over 350 employees have requested to speak with a nurse navigator since the program’s inception in 2015. According to Borsellino, one in every two men and one in every three women will have a cancer diagnosis in his or her lifetime, and one in three people will be a caregiver.
“Marie would help us with everything, from how to create a modified work schedule [for the employee] to how to navigate time off when the employee had little PTO,” Dieter says. “Marie shared resources with the employee that I would never have known about. The three of us worked together to collaboratively manage her ability to work while dealing with her cancer diagnosis and treatment.”
Sara Russell, nurse clinician and breast cancer survivor, says the nurse navigator helped her plan for returning to work. “I learned ways to reduce stress, cope with fatigue; I was surprised how many resources are available,” she says. “It is a basic human need to feel someone cares about you. Work is such a huge part of our lives; it gives us purpose. Incorporating support at work during cancer treatment is so important.”
“If we can educate our workforce about their resources when they or a loved one receive a cancer diagnosis, they’ll feel safe and connected to the work environment,” says Borsellino. “To make our employees feel supported during a difficult time, helping them be informed and having a plan lessens the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, making it a bit easier to concentrate at work.”
There are three parts to the Managing Cancer at Work Program:
Web Portal: This resource-dense site is specifically designed for the workplace environment. It includes information about the most common cancers and their treatment, screening and prevention, and role-playing videos that portray how to handle tough conversations with an employee or a manger. A managers’ portal (open to all employees) gives supervisors strategies that can be used to support the employee, team and department effectively.
Nurse Navigator: The oncology nurse navigator works with employees through their entire care continuum, starting with an intake meeting conducted in person or by phone to identify any barriers that need to be addressed. Particularly for the newly diagnosed, there are questions and issues that come up that require answers right away. Borsellino says: “Being flexible and available to all employees is important. We recognize the challenges of an employee’s schedule and take calls from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. All calls are answered within 24 hours.”
Support Groups: There is a support group for employees with a cancer diagnosis, a support group for caregivers and a networking group for employees who have completed treatment. Call 410-955-6229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To find out more about Managing Cancer at Work, visit managingcanceratwork.com or call 410-955-6229.