Sharing my story hasn't been easy, but I have faced a lot of battles in my life and this is just one more I know I can conquer. My hope is that by telling my story, as painful as it is, I am able to help other cancer patients who have been harassed or wrongfully terminated by their employer and educate them about their rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.
My story begins in Virginia, long before I understood what Family Medical Leave was or that I would have to fight for it. I served as an employee at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical, then called Potomac Hospital, from August 2006 until 2009. While six weeks pregnant with my second child in April 2008, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I took leave under FMLA to undergo a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy, all while managing my high-risk pregnancy.
After I requested FMLA leave for my second mastectomy, I was denied it by my supervisor who told me "for a cancer patient, you don't look sick." Later, I was given Family Leave but when I tried to return to work, it was only to discover that I had been fired. The whole situation made me feel dehumanized and degraded. I was working for a hospital, yet they were forcing me to put my work ahead of my health. They didn't care; they were trying to get me to quit by making my work life miserable while I was fighting for my life.
As stated by the United States Department of Labor, the Family Medical Leave Act "entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave." As an employee of Sentara, it was my right to take FML. I expected more support from my supervisor considering Sentara characterizes itself as a cancer treatment facility that features "commitment to providing a patient-centered approach to treating breast cancer."
Throughout this whole experience, the strongest emotion I felt was hurt; hurt that my employer and the people I trusted were putting me in a situation where I was forced to choose between my survival and my job. Thank goodness for the love and support I received from my family because I received none of that from my employer.
What many people don't know about me is that I'm a military veteran. I've served in very dangerous situations in Somalia and in Guantanamo but my experience abroad doesn't come close to what I was feeling when I was battling cancer and trying to maintain a job.
I want other cancer patients to know that they need to be educated about their employment rights. I am lucky that I found the strength to come forward with my story and that my attorneys at The Employment Law Group© law firm have supported me 100 percent. But not everyone is that lucky. These individuals suffering from cancer need to know that they are people, too, and deserve to be treated like a human being in need of help. I also want to send a message to hospitals and other employers that deathly ill patients can be productive but need compassion too.