Working while battling cancer

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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When Joy Lindsay was diagnosed with bi-lateral breast cancer in Oct 2010, she wanted two things more than anything else: to be able to drive ad to be able to keep working. Joy has been an employee at Harsco for 25 years and is currently the Corporate Communications Administrative Assistant there.

“Other than loss of energy, I was able to work, and I didn't get sick,” she says. But, it wasn’t always easy for her. "I did have some tough days when I’d go into the ladies' room in tears. I’d cry it out, pull myself together, and go back to my cube. I learned to just take it hour by hour… and I got through it. Work was a great distraction."

In this conversation, listen to Joy, joined by two of her co-workers, discussing how she  continued to go to work and perform her normal duties while being treated for cancer.

Listen to the program:


Ken Julian, Senior Director Corporate Communications at Harsco, showed concern for Joy as both an employee and as a friend. He says, "As a manager, I was concerned but proud of the way that people responded. She didn't face it alone. And, I’m proud of the way people pitched in to help Joy and continue work." Harsco is a large company and operates business worldwide, but has a relatively small office. Ken says, “We treat each other like family… that’s essential. When times get tough and someone is going through a struggle, everyone chips in.”

Joy says, “Everyone was fabulous at work and beyond. The phone calls, flowers and lunches. Ken called and asked ‘What can we do to make it more comfortable?’ So, they set up pillow under my desk. It was just fantastic support and love and encouragement.”

Joy had three lumpectomies November through January that she would schedule around holidays so that she could maximize her time off of work. She did not have clear margins so she needed a double mastectomy in February followed by a chemo regimen and the drug, herceptin for a year.


One of her coworkers even offered to give her unused vacation days to use. That's the point when Joy realized that she had benefits that she could use to help her through.

Susan Bruening, Benefits Services Manager at Harsco, explains that Joy wasn’t the first to face cancer at their workplace and that there were plans in place to deal with the situation. Sickness and accident plans, and short-term and long-term disability were just some of the options. And the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for federally mandated time away from a job for illnesses, and also extends to caregiving and birth of a child.

Susan talked her through the options and helped her to coordinate and covered her absences at work.This was an important process for Joy during treatment. She says to other patients out there, “Know your benefits, talk to HR and know what's available to you.”

Are you working with cancer? Please share your story, thoughts, and wisdom in a comment below.

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