Be the Boss Over Cancer

Hi there,

My wife just started chemo for stage 2 breast cancer. She will be having a double mastectomy after the 6 months of chemo is done due to a rare gene marker (forget the name of it) that indicates she could have more cancer in the future. She works for a small clinic with less than 50 employees in California. According to the clinic, due to their small size they are not required (nor do they have) FMLA. They are saying she'll need to work 30 hours a week to maintain her job and benefits. I understand times are tough and everyone is struggling, but I am blown away at the inability to modify her work schedule so she can keep her job. She's expected to make a full recovery after reconstructive surgery, I suspect about a year total before she's completely able to resume full time work, perhaps not that long. But as it looks now, she will be terminated in one month because she is unable to work much at all right now. She is hyper-sensitive to medicines, so chemo is really taking a toll on her, this being just the first week we're not sure if this will continue or not each week or so after a treatment. At any rate, if she loses her job, the $1600 or so she'll make on unemployment won't even cover the costs of Cobra, and we're struggling as it is. Is this really legal? Can someone who is already in treatment for cancer lose their job and possibly their benefits?

I am working 80+ hours a week with four kids, meals, etc trying to keep things afloat and have had very little time to research all the large amounts of ADA and other articles out there to give me an idea of what her options are. Can she go out on disability and if so, does that pay more than unemployment, will it cover her medical costs while under treatment? Is there something like social security benefits that would help in this case?

Thank you for any thoughts/ideas on what our options are or what we should/can do.


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  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Jun 15, 2012

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Kevin,

    How overwhelming and frustrating.  It is true that if the company has less than 50 employees they aren't bound by the FMLA, however there might be state specific leave policies that you can tap into or other options.  We are not a legal resource however there are two places I suggest you begin, the first is:
    The Cancer Legal Resource Center
    Toll Free: (866) THE-CLRC or (866) 843-2572

    Phone: (213) 736-1455

    TDD: (213) 736-8310

    Fax: (213) 736-1428


    and the other is:, which is the National Cancer Legal Services Network.  They have several CA based services listed that might be of use.

    I recommend reaching out to several in order to hopefully get your questions answered quickly.

    In addition, has she spoken to her doctors about whether she should expect to experience such an extreme reaction to the chemo throughout?  How often does she have it?  Is there a way for her to schedule chemo on Fridays so she can recover over the weekends and still be able to maintain a 30 hour work week?  Can she work more some weeks so she can work less others?

    Please let me know if I can provide any further referrals or information of if you have any additional questions.


    Rebecca V. Nellis
    VP, Programs and Strategy
    Cancer and Careers

  • Kevin D.

    Kevin D. on Jun 15, 2012

    Hi Rebecca,

    Thank you for your reply! I will be reaching out to both those places next week. Thank you for the info. She has chemo every 14 days, then a booster shot the next day. However, our insurance only pays for the booster every 15 days, so thanks to that lovely little stigma, we had to adjust the chemo treatments to every 15 days. Lovely right? So much for planning it on Fridays! She also had an infection with her port shortly after having it put in, so she is on antibiotics for that. Plus, 8 years ago she had Thyroid issues, and is on meds for that as well. So it could be any combo of things causing her to feel this way. She was told she probably shouldn't feel the effects of the chemo for a day or two. Wrong. She was vomiting two hours after treatment for two days.We've also purchased a vita mix and making extreme green shakes, mostly organic greens with some water, whey protein and glutamine to help boost her protein production. Being the first week we won't know until after a few more weeks if she will continue like this or not. Hopefully she can work 30 hours a week to keep her job and benefits, but it looks like she may not if she continues as she has. The other issue is working in a clinic around lots of people is not good for her during the three day window when her immune system is completely shot.

    At any rate, I will look into the info you posted. Thank you.

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