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Coping with illness

Posted on June 22, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Imagine you are sick with cancer, depression, Crohn's disease, or even a cold.  Imagine that you are also responsible for taking care of another or others - parents, spouse or partner, children - while you continue to work.  Imagine you are in an industry that expects you to entertain or be entertained as part of your job, to work longer hours because of deadlines or increasing responsibilities due to cut backs in other staff.  Imagine the stress of having to do it all, and in some cases, while hiding your illness or that of a loved one from your colleagues and employer or clients.

In each session we've done on this subject, two of which Jaimie, the young colon cancer survivor, and Beth, the brain cancer survivor (although now dealing with her third round of cancer), we heard from so many people who were the sole providers for their families; from those who were terrified that their employers would find out their personal medication costs and thus know that a person was ill; from those who had days when it was impossible to work because their illness or that of their loved one was so overwhelming. 

These are our colleagues who struggle each day with who to tell and when and the implications of telling.  These were managers who wanted to know how to ask the right and sensitive questions in order to be more supportive of those with whom they worked who were ill or caring for an ill loved one.

Each illness is as different as each person.  There are no perfect questions to ask nor perfect answers to provide to talk about one's own illness or that of someone for whom we are caring.  We can create an atmosphere in which honesty is appreciated; where confidences are kept; where the value of a human being is far beyond the illness.  We can suggest policy changes in our work places and in our professional settings that are more humane and allow time for those who are caregivers or those who are sick.  We can be supportive of colleagues when they are going through a tough time.

At this summer's MPI WEC and again at the Exhibitor Show in March 2008, we will again delve into these issues.  Join us to continue the conversation so that we can bring illness and caregiving out of the closet in which we found too many who were HIV+ or had AIDS.  Join us as we look at how we can be supportive.  Let's practice our hospitality toward our colleagues.


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