Carma Herring
Carma Herring

When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, it’s important for everyone involved to know about resources available for support and assistance.

The John Stoddard Cancer Center offers a wide variety of support programs for its patients, said Carma Herring, the center’s executive director.

“We have found that these can be invaluable to people, especially to help them find like people so they can see they’re going through the same thing and help each other,” she said. “We set the stage, so to speak, and then they help each other. Nobody knows what it’s like to walk in those shoes until you’ve been there.”

For those who choose not to join a formal support group, Stoddard also offers care coordinators who can work one-on-one with patients to find individual ways to help them, Herring said.

“For instance, if you’ve got a young professional with children trying to go through this, there are a lot of extra needs,” she said. “We can hook them up with Child Life to help them deal with those issues.”

The American Cancer Society provides resources ranging from a national call center and website to part-time “patient navigators” at both Mercy Medical Center and Iowa Health hospitals.

“We have had some employees who were diagnosed with cancer while they’ve been employed here,” said Jen Hardin, human resources director of the American Cancer Society’s Midwest division. “We always make sure they’re knowledgeable about resources we have.”

Organizations with more than 50 employees are subject to the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave time in addition to regular vacation or paid time off for a severe illness such as cancer.

“A lot of times what we have found is that someone undergoing cancer treatment will take that time intermittently,” Hardin said. “They may be out several weeks for surgery, and then be able to come back to work on a limited basis. It may be something where they come in to the office for a certain number of hours or days per week. We’ve provided people tools they need to work at home, which generally is not much more than a laptop computer.”

Employee assistance programs can also provide resources for employees dealing with cancer as well as their family members.

Employers must be careful to respect a person’s right to privacy about their illness, Hardin noted. Under federal law, an employer is prohibited from disclosing information about a worker’s illness to other employees. Because of that, it’s up to the employee to determine how much, if any, information he or she discloses.

“However, it is important there is communication on the person’s work plan and ability to do some work,” Hardin said.