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If you worked full-time at diagnosis, was employer sympathetic to time out beyond FMLA?

Posts: 37
Joined: Feb 2014

I am newly diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and will need surgery, chemo and radiation. I work full-time and I am concerned about my job and health benefits. I am an "exempt" employee (not hourly). I don't want to say a lot about my job as my mgr or co-workers may see this post. I'll just say that it is a professional type job, but not a desk job. 

I know about FMLA of course. My concern is that FMLA will run out before my treatment ends. Hopefully, I can work during part of the treatment phase.

If you were working full-time when you were diagnosed, can you address how you balanced work and treatment? Thanks so much.

New Flower
Posts: 4299
Joined: Aug 2009

Welcome †o the board. I am very sorry that you have been diagnosed and will undergo a agressive treatments. My story is a similar in part, a professional job, was involved in a lot of travel, presentations ect.

Iwas diagnosed intitially in May of 2008. I have had several surgeries for breast, including mastectomy and reconstruction. I was working up until surgery and was at work the day before my mastectomy. My emploer at that time had a very good benefit program. Initially I took 10 sick days, than I was on short-term disability for 6 months during 6 cycles of Chemo, then took my vocations days for part of radiation treatments, and then filed for FMLA. My doctor (primary care who did most of required papaer work) supported me all the way through. It was required to send monthly updates to HR for extention of benefits. I have had an interview with HR and medical professional conformimg my situation, was not fun, however required by policy. All information suppose to keep confedential. Initially I spoke with My manager (male), about serious health conditios and upcoming surgery and medical leave. I was doing some part -time from home,that did help me to extend my benefits. Well inventially all of the abouve cost me my job, I was laid off as a part of workforce reduction on my last day of radiation treatment. I never regret my decision to take time off and still belive it did help me a lot. I never discussed steps of my treatment with my co-workers, mostely male, I did not feel comfortable. 

After I recovered from all of my treatment, I found another job in 2010. After Two two years on my new job I had recurrence. My treatment was Chemo first. My oncologist suggested not to file for FMLA and see if I can tolerate and managed. I spoke with my manager without disclosing detals and told him that I could take single days off or work from home, and he was ok with it. My current company does not have formal "sick days", it is honor system which is hard and sometime I am taking vocation days .

 You are the one who know your work enviroment. People react differentely and it is hard to predict. Many of survivors on this board were surrounded by love and compassionethat at work that helped them to fight and undergo treatments. Few have had issues, I am amoung those. Everyone experience is unique and similar at the same time. Your state law can play role as well. You can PM me if you have specific questions

Best luck to you with all of your treatments. Keep us posted  

Posts: 402
Joined: Nov 2010

I was diagnosed with TNBC Stage 1, Grade C (8/2010) so my treatment included 2 lumpectomies (the 2nd to get clean margins), 6 rounds of Chemo and 33 rads. I worked the entire time, taking off 1 week for each lumpectomy, 1 or 2 days for each round of chemo and I arranged my rads before work each day. Each person reacts differently, you may find that you can work--I felt that I had no choice. But I will say that going to work and coming home was all I expected of myself. Most days I would lay on my bed after work and my husband would take care of making dinner. I did manage to take 2 classes, interview and find a new job and move during treatment. It took me almost 7 months from the end of treatment until I felt like I had any energy. I didn't pursue FMLA--my employers were understanding.

Good luck to you.



BlownAway60's picture
Posts: 848
Joined: Nov 2009

Sorry for you diagnosis.

I was diagnosed in 2009 with IDC. ER+/PR+, Her 2+. Stage 2a. I had a lumpectomy, 6 rounds of chemo and 33 sessions of radiation. I was very lucky because my boss was a BC survivor, so she knew exactly what I was going through. Another plus was that I worked for the Federal Govenment and had accrued sick leave and annual leave. Chemo was very hard on me and for about a week and up to two weeks after each treatment I was not able to work at all. I would work when I could and never failed to complete all of my duties. During radiation I scheduled my treatments for the afternoon and worked in the mornings. I had enough sick leave to cover all of the time that I missed from work and never had to request leave donations or use FMLA. I retired from Civil service in Sep 2010 and began training my replacement while going through radiation. I have been NED since completing rads in July of 2010.

Sending Hugs and Prayers


Posts: 653
Joined: Oct 2012

I am in education.  I had accrued enough sick days that I was all right, surgery to chemo to radiation.  Rads started in August, and so when the school year began, I joined the Sick Bank because I had no more reserves.  I also worked half days most of September. I did take some full days off when I was treating sme burning.  I resumed a full schedule by mid-October.

My DRs wrote "excuses" for me for my extended absences.  The Sick Bank trusted me on my requests, alhough I cold verify my absences.  

I fared well, really.  It may be a plus of working in a small, rural school where we all know each other.

Hope you get your dilemma resolved.

Posts: 37
Joined: Feb 2014

It's so wonderful to get all your replies. I appreciate each one!  We don't have sick leave with my employer but I am hoping for the best!  It was so interesting to read each of your case.  Love this forum. Such a wealth of knowledge and support!  :) 

camul's picture
Posts: 2541
Joined: Dec 2010

No my company went strictly by the rules. Knowingnthis, went back to work with a trash can and the big box of liners from costco. First time around I ended the year with only a few daysleft og FMLA. They told me when I went back, no special considerations would be made for me and they would be watching. I used short term disability the first 7 weeks and went back to work 5 weeks following mast. and 3 days after 1st chemo.
Second time around, was diagnosed Sept 9. That ended up being my last day, after 13 years. I was going to go back. My director called and we hadnlunch. Brought along a co-worker. My director, who is a friend, warned me that if I came back, she was already informed that because I missed one stst for the month of Sept. she was instructed to write me up. She said I was now considered a liaability to the company. She was a friend and I loved that she gave me a heads up! I was not able to work full time. I have stage iv and myhips and tailbone were so involved that there was no way I could have sat 40 hours a week. I was in denial about my prognosis. I knew I was terminal, yet I was on weekly chemo, and on the good 2 days a week, I felt like I could do the job, It was just the other 5 that were an issue.
But no, working in a union environment for the phone company, there were no exceptions.
So I went on Medicare at less than a 3rd of my wages! To this day, when I have good days, I think I would be able to work! lol.... the good days are so few and I know I did the right thing.
Good luck, I hope you work for a company that maay be able to accomadate your needs better.


Posts: 1416
Joined: Mar 2001

I had just moved and started a brand new job though I knew in my soul something was terribly wrong.  After just 6 months in very physical career in manufacturing I was no long able to work.  Stage 3 with 11 out of 21 lymphnodes positive after 10 years almost of seeking Relief.  Lucky I moved to the Province that had the highest success rate knowing inside I couldn't do this alone and my son was in bad place. 

Not everyone has great time of it and I always am in awe of the women who continue to work day after day and still find the energy to take care of their families.  I had to get 1200 hours from time started till the following April.  I didn't even work overtime because I was just too ill and you know I made it with 1211 or 07 hours imagine.  I think the Human Rights Manager was an incredible man and he made cancer treatment easy.  Getting back to work was a whole different thing.  They wanted to do everything they could not to allow me to come back though still very productive and actually helped them to save 30 million dollars a year through my auditing skills.

I know one thing and this is it...  We all need to do what is necessary to get through this practically unscathed if we can.  I tell people to make sure you take care of yourself first without that nothing else matters.  Cancer visits us because of something and knowing what we were doing before obviously wasn't working well for us.  Resigning and moving forward sometimes is the best we can do for ourselves.


Posts: 6587
Joined: Oct 2010

I did not use FMLA but I waa offered it...I was told (MY job...each have own rules on sick time etc) I had to use every sick, personal and vacation day prior to using FMLAj I was not allowed to leave for radiation so I did it on my lunch hour (cancer center was great about moving things around for my lunch hour) OR I would have had to use ALL MY time. (SO I was very lucky)

I wish you the best....it's tough when  sick and worried about job (esp IF you have the benefits LIKE I DO)


I"ll check back for an update..good luck with your job


Posts: 37
Joined: Feb 2014

I'm fairly new in my job. There long enough to qualify for FMLA but not much more than that. My company doesn't have sick leave. I have a few days of "vacation" that will be used at the beginning of my FMLA leave. 


Once I come back to work after FMLA (on chemo or rad), I won't have any vacation days left.  That is the worrisome part. No FMLA protection and no leave.  I understand of course from an employer's perspective. But that doesn't stop me, the employee, from wishing it were different.  Maybe my company will surprise me! :)


I'll keep you posted. I appreciate all the frank replies, truly I do!

Posts: 6587
Joined: Oct 2010

My job acted like sympathetic at the start....OH anything you need blah blah blah...soon as I started radiation (10:30 daily) 2-3 rd day I was called into the office and said YOU CAN" Leave for treatments-YOU MUST use your sick days. I cired, Of course< and stated I would not have enough days for 6-7 wks of treatment. They didnt' care or try to help! I called my Cancer center and spoke to them in person at next treatment-they called my job..(NOT MUCH help though) but cancer center moved appt around so I COULD do treatments on MY LUNCH HOUR daily. THEY were a great help and took a lot of stress off me...

To this day 6 1/2 yr later I WILL never get past how cruel and hurtful they were. I had been employed at that time about 7 yrs, I NEVER used/abused my sick time. NO reason to treat me as they did-but they did...still hurts to this day.

but life goes on ....and here I am still employeed by them for 13 yrs...


CypressCynthia's picture
Posts: 4014
Joined: Oct 2009

Some things to know.  Your employer must work with you if your physician puts limitations on your work.  Most Human Resource departments these days are neither helpful nor knowledgeable.  I had my HR tell me I had to come back all or none.  My sister, who is a pshysician, informed me that this was not true and employers have to accommodate you (as much as possible) if you have a disability.

"Saving your job
Most people are reluctant to tell their employer about a serious illness, fearing it may jeopardize their income. However, not telling your employer could also jeopardize your future. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only provides legal protection if your employer knows that you have a disability. If your illness adversely affects your job performance and your employer has no knowledge of it, you could be fired with no legal recourse.

Employer-provided accommodations.   Under the ADA, once you tell your employer about your disability, you are entitled to certain “reasonable” accommodations, such as modifying your work schedule, altering some of your nonessential job duties, changing your physical work space, and providing special equipment. Your employer is required to make these accommodations unless it can be proven that they would be an “undue hardship,” which varies given the size and financial resources of the company.

Before you tell your employer about your disability, first speak with your doctor to determine whether accommodations would even enable you to continue working. If the answer is yes, secure a note from your doctor.

If you can’t perform your job duties with an accommodation, your employer can generally fire you. The ADA only applies to people who can perform the duties of their job—with or without an accommodation. If you can’t perform your job duties, then you should investigate your company’s disability and/or retirement benefits. Many companies also have pension plans that permit either early or disability retirement."


My advice is to have a real heart-to-heart talk with your oncologist about this.  He or she will be the key in obtaining a letter informing your employer of what tasks you are able to perform and how many hours you can realistically work.  I was shocked when I talked with my oncologist that he bluntly told me I shouldn't work anymore.  Of course, with bone, ling and liver mets, it was sort of duh, but I had never considered not working at that time.  Now, I am grateful because chemo really knocked the stuffing out of me and, being in healthcare, it is hard for my employer to be able to accommodate me.

If your onc says, at any point that working is not and option, begin to apply for disability at once.  It is not the fastest process.  My SS disability was approved pretty quickly (I am guessing less than 8 weeks).  My employer's longterm disablity took longer and they kept demanding more info.  I finally copied all of my scans and biopsy reports and sent a letter to my CEO as well as HR saying, if you are going to give me a hard time with 3 mets, who do you help?  My approval came about a week later.

Be determined and advocate for yourself IN WRITING.  If you can't do it, have someone help you.  I had friends, family and my husband all help me because I was having a rough time.

Good luck and I hope some of this helps!

Posts: 6587
Joined: Oct 2010

Thanks for the info...after the fact I went to a support group in regards to cancer and jobs...I told them (I had a log of everything) all that was said and done to me and said it was so wrong and illegal-as well as JUST PLAN uncaring...

hope I never need to use info but happy I went to support group...

YOU hit the nail on the head...HR helped at all-no info, support etc..



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