When I started working for Managed by Q in February of 2017, I was quickly swept up in a flurry of activities organized by our People and Culture team. I was thrilled to be part of the company’s culture and to get to know my coworkers, so I went to every happy hour and signed up for every extracurricular program. The beginning of my story was not uncommon for a tech startup employee, but Managed by Q’s programming would eventually end up having an impact on my life that would go far beyond a fun night out.
I had been with the company about eight months when our People and Culture team organized several events in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, including a bake-off where the proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I was excited that my pink ribbon sprinkle cookies won the taste test and Q donated to Susan G. Komen in my honor. Following the bake-off, Q invited Lindsay Jean Thomson, breast cancer survivor and Vice contributor, to tell her story. Her harrowing tale made a deep impression on me as she is the same age as me and my many under-30 coworkers. While I felt empathy for Lindsay and felt it was important for me to participate in Q’s awareness events, I didn’t fully value their weight because I was young and healthy.
However, the information from those events must have subconsciously taken hold. A few weeks later, I did a self-examination and found a golf ball size lump. The radiologist couldn’t look me in the face as she went over the mammogram. She kept asking, “how old are you?”, shaking her head in disbelief of what she was seeing on her screen. I had stage 3 breast cancer; I was 29 years old.
The following year would consist of me balancing multiple grueling treatments and still going into the office nearly every day. I wore a wig and a smile, and would do business as usual, albeit going to the bathroom and privately puking between cold calls (a side effect of chemo). This was not pressure from my company — in fact they gave me all the time I needed — but it was the pressure I put on myself to maintain my previous, healthy sense of self. With the exception of my direct team and the People & Culture Team knowing the truth, I fought through the work day with very few people knowing that I was sick. Despite taking time off work to undergo my very difficult and often painful treatments, I was able to hit 113% of my annual 2018 sales goal, an achievement I’m very proud of.
I think often about how Q’s programming was the motivation that got me to the doctor, and how it ultimately saved my life. The scary part for me to consider is that without Managed by Q’s participation in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is likely that I wouldn’t have found the lump until it was too late.
While the reaction from the radiologist who originally provided the diagnosis might make you think twenty-somethings with cancer are rare, it turns out it’s not that uncommon. According to Susan G. Komen, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. The Young Survival Coalition states that in the US alone, 70,000 women between ages 15–39 are diagnosed every year. Nearly 40,000 women in the US will die annually from the disease, 1,000 of whom will be under the age of 40. Looking around the office and seeing how many women work here, it’s sobering to know that statistically, there will be more women that I work with diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover mammograms starting at the age of 40, but most insurance companies don’t offer regular screenings for the disease prior to that age because they’re not legally required to. Considering that millennials, the eldest of whom are now 37 years old, are soon to make up 75% of the workforce, that means that most women in the workplace are not getting insured coverage for breast cancer screenings. While it is important that individuals know what their own health care plans cover, I do think that companies should step up to the plate as well. In the same way that employer-provided flu shots are now commonplace, so should breast cancer education and screenings.
During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are quite a few impactful activities, beyond wearing pink, that any People and Culture team can do to make sure its team is informed on the subject and, ultimately, stays healthy. These are my top suggestions:
- Educate your team by having a survivor come and speak. Lindsay Jean Thomson, who spoke at Q in 2017, is available for private engagements, but you can also find a multitude of speakers at the Susan G. Komen Speakers Bureau.
- Schedule your team for checks with mobile mammography. The American Italian Cancer Foundation’s Mobile Mammography Clinic travels to all five boroughs of New York City to provide free mammograms and breast exams. Alinea Medical Imaging offers mobile mammography throughout California, which you can schedule to come to your location.
- Have your team download the free B4BC (Boarding for Breast Cancer) app, which contains important educational breast cancer materials, reminders for monthly examinations, and information on how to perform a self-exam. You can also attend one of their breast cancer awareness events through surf, skate, and other board sports.
- Raise awareness and donate: host a bake sale, a dance off, or a karaoke contest where sponsored participants raise funds. Unsure where to donate? My top suggestions are National Breast Cancer Foundation which provides educational materials and free mammograms to those that don’t have access to them and LIVESTRONG which provides financial assistance for procedures insurance often doesn’t cover while a patient undergoes treatment.
- Join a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team or create your own. Races typically happen in the fall during or around Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the proceeds of the race go to breast cancer research.
- New York State employees receive four hours annual leave for breast imaging. If you are in the private sector, you can join the state in their effort to provide paid annual leave for imaging.
This year, Q continued with the awareness programming, hosting another Susan G. Komen fundraising bake-off where we outdid last year’s record. And this week, New York’s Susan G. Komen CEO, Linda Tantawi, came to Q to further educate us on early detection.
It’s been almost a year since my diagnosis. As I have undergone treatment, the team at Managed by Q has been there for me in every way imaginable. I’m grateful that my employer cared for me when I needed them most, and it ultimately has made me an incredibly dedicated employee. I couldn’t be more humbled and proud to work for a company that values the health and care of its employees.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every month, I encourage other companies to take initiative where insurance companies fall short: raise awareness, educate everyone on the facts about breast cancer, and offer screenings. It could ultimately save your co-worker’s life.