Ground-breaking advances in medical technology and treatment have made it possible for millions of people diagnosed with cancer to live longer with the disease. But in spite of improving survival rates, incidents of cancer continue to grow. Given that more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer, organisations need to consider how cancer will impact their employees and businesses.
We spoke to Addi Lang, a 52 year-old woman living with cancer, who is on a mission to address occupational health policies when it comes to the disease. Addi was diagnosed with late stage cancer before launching her Forever Changed Global Awareness Campaign dedicated to helping those living with cancer and advocating for the inclusion of cancer policies in the work place in South Africa.
The progress in medical science means that like many other previously life threatening diseases, cancer can be overcome. But when we think about cancer, we tend to think only about accessing appropriate treatment and very little consideration is given to the rest of an individual’s life, particularly when it comes to work. If cancer continues to affect more people, there’s a need to take cancer into account when it comes to occupational health policies. So what happens when cancer survivors go back to work and resume their lives before diagnoses? Are there guidelines in place to help companies support and assist employees who’ve been diagnosed? If not, why not?
Addi’s story of hope & purpose
Before Addi’s late stage diagnosis, she was a dynamic and successful business owner, working as a casting agent, promoting Arts & Culture across the country and beyond. In spite of her experience with misdiagnosis, inadequate medical aid cover and the severe side effects of chemotherapy, today Addi is an accredited cancer coach and founder of the Forever Changed Global Campaign – an initiative that aims to educate those living with cancer to rediscover how to live full and impactful lives.
As part of the global awareness campaign, Addi, together with her life partner David Salomon, launched a four-tier corporate wellness programme that is accredited by SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) called “Live Life Deliberately”, that not only aims to open dialogue about the urgent need for a cancer policy in the workplace. SABPP is a lifestyle partner to The Forever Changed Global Awareness Campaign and has endorsed both the campaign and the content of Live Life Deliberately Wellness Programme.
According to Addi, both the Forever Changed Global Awareness Campaign and the Live Life Deliberately Wellness Programme goes a step further than pink ribbon campaigns, which have made great strides in awareness and early detection, but don’t engage stakeholders in the realities of employee needs beyond diagnoses.
Working with cancer
Currently there’s no data available in SA that shows how the burden of disease is affecting the workplace either in terms of productivity or absenteeism. According to a survey conducted by cancer charity, Macmillan, there are about 750,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK. Under the UK law, cancer patients are classed as disabled from diagnosis for the rest of their lives, protecting them against unfair dismissal and discrimination. SA’s lack of legislated cancer policy at work puts employees at risk of dismissal but, according to Addi, if a cancer patient keeps their employment an even bigger challenge is finding the “new normal” when they return to work after diagnosis and treatment.
“Employees living with cancer will no longer see life in the same way that they did before diagnosis. There will always be the trauma that is associated with receiving the test results, which becomes an on-going battle. As much as one tries to put it behind them and to carry on with a positive outlook for the future, life as they knew it has changed, for everyone,” said Addi.
Employers need to understand that recovery is a process that takes time. Those returning to work may have difficulty readjusting or are dealing with mental health issues associated with long-term illness. Live Life Deliberately works with HR and managers to reintegrate cancer survivors into the workplace in a manner that is supportive, considered and proactive.
Road to wellness
Even without a national policy on cancer in the workplace, there are a number of steps employers can take to ensure that employees are supported on their return to work. A good starting point is having a clear, formal policy on cancer care at work that makes allowances for the numerous differences in treatment and recovery from person to person. According to Head of Knowledge and Innovation at the SABPP, Lathasha Subban, the management of cancer in the workplace should fall under the Wellness strategy or department of an organisation.
“Wellness can assist in terms of medical aid education, counselling, coaching for employees that are diagnosed, their managers and colleagues,” said Subban.
Awareness of the illness must be incorporated and communicated to the organisation to make sure that both the employer and employee know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to managing the disease. The wellness programme should include practises that encourage a healthy work-life environment such as management working together with employees to redistribute workload and responsibilities during recovery.
“Partnering with organisations that can assist the stress and impact of cancer on all parties is also an option to co create a cancer-specific wellness programme that: provides on-going support for employees who are living with cancer, or loved ones living with cancer; is committed to continuous education, and regular screening, as well as financial management programmes that can assist cancer diagnosed employees to manage the cost of treatment,” concluded Subban.
Live Life Deliberately also advocates a holistic approach to wellness, incorporating the whole individual’s needs from physical, emotional, financial, mental and spiritual to practice a healthy, balanced lifestyle. For some employers, this could mean restructuring a traditional 9 – 5 work day, creating opportunities to work remotely, designing more effective teams and communication strategies and/or incorporating automation to reduce the time and effort spent on certain functions.
“Ultimately, the need for a cancer policy in the workplace in South Africa requires leadership and the attention of Government to regulate policy and implement guidelines. We are working towards making sure cancer gets the same priority among decision makers as HIV/AIDS,” said Addi.
The Forever Changed Global Campaign has earned the recognition and endorsement from numerous partners since its launch October 2014 because of Addi’s vision to advocate for health rights and choices, including MediaCom, SABPP, Jetline Sandown, MEC South Africa, Knowledge Resources, Just You Model Management, Foundation for the Development of Africa, Adreach, SA Congress of Non Profit Organizations, Tropics Media Group, International Arts Talent Showcase, A Food Affair, Soaring Free Superfoods and Leafy Greens Café.
For more information about the Forever Changed Global Awareness Campaign and Live Life Deliberately Wellness Programme visit www.foreverchanged.co.za or contact Addi on 074 973 9999.