February 4th is World Cancer Day, and it is a reminder that cancer doesn’t stop for anything, not even a pandemic. And although the pandemic is putting an immense strain on all of us, it is causing extra challenges for cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones. Here is a look at those challenges and what employers can do to help.
The most frustrating obstacle is that cancer screening and treatments are being postponed. At the start of the pandemic, all screening programs for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer were put on hold for a few months, only to resume at partial capacity. Roughly half of all Canadian cancer patients surveyed said that they had a cancer care appointment cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. Cancer treatments were similarly affected across all provinces, with cancer surgeries down 20% in 2020 compared to the same timeframe in 2019, and things aren’t improving as the pandemic continues.
To a cancer patient and their loved ones, who live every moment knowing that something that could kill them is growing inside them, these delays are torture. Understanding that the chances of successfully fighting cancer hinges on finding and treating it early, 74% of Canadians with cancer said that being forced to succumb to these delays seriously affected their mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, some experts believe that we could face another public health crisis after the pandemic with more patients being diagnosed with later-stage cancers.
Another significant challenge for cancer patients and their loved ones during the pandemic is that the virus is more deadly for someone with cancer. Because many of the treatments for cancer weaken the immune system, recipients are both more likely to get infected with the virus and to have a serious outcome from it. This can be particularly concerning for the cancer patient and others in their home, given that they still need to carry on with life – shop for groceries, go to work, or perhaps children in the home need to attend school.
As many of us are dealing with the difficulties of working during the pandemic, the additional obstacles faced by a cancer patient can make working even more challenging.
That being said, there are some benefits to a cancer patient who continues to work
Furthermore, studies show that having a supportive employer can drastically impact a worker’s recovery from cancer.
Knowing cancer patients have such weakened immune systems, employers can start by providing a Covid-safe workplace. Getting vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same is a big step in this direction because we know that we are less likely to infect others if we are vaccinated.
Other basic behaviours that we’ve been doing for the past 2 years should continue to be enforced at work – wearing a mask, washing hands often, and maintaining a safe, 2-meter social distance.
Leaders can help here by adapting one-way aisles, move desks farther apart, construct Plexiglas dividers, improve the ventilation in the work area, and stagger breaks and start/end times to avoid the formation of clusters of people.
Other very common side-effects of cancer treatments are profound fatigue and general malaise. This means that it is unlikely that a cancer patient can work the same as they did before their diagnosis. But employers can only help if they know that their worker has been dealing with cancer, and it is up to the patient to disclose.
In Canada, the human rights laws currently say that an employer has a duty to accommodate a worker with limitations due to illness or disability, including cancer, as long as the accommodation doesn’t cause undue hardship to the organization.
These accommodations could include
We feel for anyone who is managing cancer on top of the pandemic and know that we’re here to help. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can work together and create solutions that work best for you and your organization.