Be the Boss Over Cancer

I had an extremely high risk of breast cancer and on the recommendation of several trusted physicians and my own choice along with my husband, underwent a prophylactic double, skin-sparing mastectomy 2 months ago. I tried to return to work 6 weeks after surgery and had no idea what that would really entail. Although I am a Hospice Nurse Supervisor, my needing more time to rehabilitate to my new life was not understood or appreciated. I drive an hour and a half to and from work every day which proved to be extremely difficult. I started physical therapy as I could not make it through a full 8-10 hour day at the office and still make it home. After 2 visits, my doctor placed driving restrictions on me and said I could work from home but not drive until I had more physical therapy and they felt it was safe. My co-workers and Director have not been pleased with this even though 95% of my job can be done at any computer and phone. I was told last Thursday that my Director was no longer willing to make this accomodation after this week. I just learned today that I am classified as a "Previvor" to breast cancer, not a "Survivor" because I was not actually diagnosed with cancer. My question is, do I have any rights in comparison to someone who actually had cancer or a disability? Is what they are doing - harassing from co-workers and refusing reasonable accomodations allowed? I have been at my job for over 1 year and I qualify for FMLA. My Doctor is completely willing to fill out the paperwork for this, however, my Director stated to me that I would have to be off of work completely (and that would be unpaid) if I cannot drive to the office to do my job, even though she fully acknowledge that I have been doing my job thoroughly from home. She feels the others are being disrupted by me not showing a physical presence at the office. Help me please if you can. I loved my job before I had surgery and now I feel beat up when I am already so physically and emotionally weak after surgery.


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  • Alice McKenney

    Alice McKenney on Sep 21, 2010

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Patty,

    I have sent your question along to one of our career coaches, however in the meantime I suggest that you speak with someone at the Cancer Legal Resource Center, they are a nonprofit that provides pro-bono counseling on legal and insurance issues and they might have some advice on what is and isn't legal in this situation. We work very closely with them and their info is below.


    Toll Free: (866) THE-CLRC or (866) 843-2572

    Phone: (213) 736-1455

    TDD: (213) 736-8310

    Fax: (213) 736-1428




  • Patty K.

    Patty K. on Sep 21, 2010

    Thank you. I very much appreciate the help and advice.

  • Rosalind Joffe

    Rosalind Joffe on Sep 23, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:

    Dear Patty-

    This is a tough situation you find yourself in. From your description, all was fine prior to the surgery. And when you returned in a restricted capacity, it changed.

    I can't answer whether you are protected by the ADA or not. There are many factors and you'd have to consult a legal expert.

    I dwonder why your co-workers are so resistant to your working virtually, especially when your supervisor said that your work is satisfactory. And I wonder why she is allowing them to make such decisions. It sounds as if either your supervisor is allowing the staff to decide how people work rather than managing them OR that she isn't being upfront with you about her own resistance to this.

    From what you say, you are veryworn from this experience. But you would have to dig deeper and confront what might be going on here to find out what you're really facing. I have a hunch that unless you do, it's going to be difficult to keep your job.

    It must be very disappointing that this isn't a more supportive environment. But that doesn't mean that all is lost. To restore what you had, however, will take effort and courage to face their resistance. I hope that you find a way to make this work for you.


    Rosalind Joffe

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