A cancer diagnosis can turn someone’s life upside down and for those who survive, the impact of the disease can last long after they are deemed cancer free.
“It’s scary really because suddenly, everything that you thought about life changes and so you suddenly want to work at something that’s meaningful,” Barbara Thompson said.
Thompson has been breast cancer free for 17 years.
She took time off work during her treatment but when she was given a clean bill of health, the path to returning to work as a breast cancer survivor was riddled with obstacles.
“Depending on the drug treatment you’re on – I was on Tamoxifen so my memory was really bad afterwards so I felt like I wasn’t as strong going back to work and so that made me feel weaker as an employee,” Thompson said.
Creating a clear pathway for employers and employees is the goal of a new research project at Saint Mary’s University called “Healthy Workplace Response to Breast Cancer.”
“Breast cancer is sometimes sensitive to talk about – people feel uncomfortable – there is a fear, ‘maybe I need some accommodations but I don’t know how to ask you for it,'” Dr. Catherine Loughlin, the associate dean of research at the Sobey School of Business, said.
The Work Wellness team is being led by Loughlin along with SMU professor Dr. Lucie Kocum and Dalhousie University professor Dr. Lynne Robinson.
Funding for the project came from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Saint Mary’s University and the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.
The group will work with community partners across Canada who have a diverse range of backgrounds including lawyers, union members, academics, medical professionals and breast cancer survivors.
“Let’s face it, in this day and age you still have to work,” Thompson said. “There’s very few people who have the luxury to stay home but we still have to make a living and so this integration, being able to work with the employer and the employees at an organization, is crucial.”
Data will be collected over the next two years before a new workplace model is released.