Friday, October 28, 2011

What You Can You Celebrates a Breast Cancer Survivor (pt. 3)

Hey everyone! October is coming to a close. We have been so honored and inspired by all of the support and outreach we have received in honor of our Breast Cancer Awareness month. A huge thank you to everyone who sent in names for our Breast Cancer Event (set to go next week!), and a special thank you to Katie Parker, a 37 year old, one year breast cancer survivor/ speaker /writer and a 2011 Pink Together Ambassador who has shared her remarkable journey with us over the month of October. Please read on for Katie’s last blog. We hope it inspires you as much as it inspires us.

I've told you about my breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Now, I'll tell you what happened after I finished treatment and how I'm doing now.

One week to the day after I finished treatment, I was terminated from my job.

Although I was given a specific reason, I don't think that it was a coincidence. Yes, I did speak to an attorney. This attorney agreed to represent me and told me that in the area where I reside, it's not uncommon for those who work in the medical community to be let go from their jobs after they finish treatment for cancer.

I also learned that having cancer puts you in a protected status with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that there are certain steps an employer would need to follow in order to terminate you if you are protected under that status. My former employer did not follow those rules. Unfortunately, this attorney discovered that she could not represent me due to a conflict of interest. I was provided the names of other attorneys that could potentially help me and I called a few, but they were not interested in my case.

For those of you that have ever been unemployed, you know how time consuming a job search is. The first attorney I met with told me that my best option would be to file a discrimination suit with the EEOC. Apparently, it's a long drawn out process that takes about six months. Who wants to do that while searching for a job/starting a new one? Let alone trying not to disclose that information to a prospective employer. Nor is it a good idea to disclose a cancer status to future employers.

Long and heart wrenching story later, I chose to put my efforts into finding work, instead of suing my former employer, as I deemed a steady income more important. More than a year later, I am still searching for full time work. With benefits. Yep, I should have pursued the EEOC suit, but I didn't so I must move on. Currently, I work several part time jobs that don't quite add up to 40 hours a week. It's a scramble to pay my bills every month. I no longer have health insurance and the state I live in does not provide any assistance to single individuals. My oncologist has encouraged me to still get my follow up exams; however, it ends up being more bills that I cannot pay. Needless to say, the loss of my job financially devastated me and I have no idea how I'll ever catch up. I get depressed about it sometimes, but always remain hopeful that things will get better.

With the bad, I've had a lot of good. My breast cancer diagnosis was not devastating for me. It gave me a greater purpose and I knew that the second I was diagnosed. I've been able to speak at several events and spread the word about early detection. I've written for The Pink Lotus Breast Center's Breast Cancer 101 blog and am a breast cancer writer for I was selected to be a 2011 Pink Together Ambassador. As a Pink Together Ambassador, my picture, along with the four other women chosen appears on the back of select boxes of Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Total cereals. My individual picture appears on the back of select packages of Chex Snack Mix (Sweet and Salty and Turtle Mix) and Betty Crocker Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix. Pink Together also invited me to ride on the Pink Together Express powered by Amtrak for Martina McBride’s “Eleven across America” tour.

So, what does the future hold? I don't know, but at least I'll always be hopeful for what's to come.

Clearly, if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, you'll need more than 60 seconds, but while you should not have to be secretive about a cancer status at work, it may be best to inform only those who need to know. Also, be familiar with the laws regarding cancer and employment in your state.

Of course, if you only have 60 seconds, what can you do to give yourself the best chance to survive breast cancer? Call your doctor's office or local imaging center to get scheduled for a mammogram!

Katie Parker is a 37 year-old, one-year breast cancer survivor/speaker/ writer and is a 2011 Pink Together Ambassador.

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