When Johns Hopkins' Managing Cancer at Work program got personal

One employee's journey from curious bystander to active participant

In January 2015, Johns Hopkins launched an innovative program called Managing Cancer at Work. Its goal was twofold: to support faculty and staff affected by the disease and also their managers. Since then, hundreds of employees have taken part in the program, which is now called Work Stride: Managing Cancer at Work. It provides expert, personal support from nurse navigators and web-based education and resources for those dealing with a cancer diagnosis, caring for someone with cancer, or wanting to be proactive in preventing cancer.

One employee, whose name is Sharon (and asked that her last name not be used), says that she never anticipated using the program. But when her fiancé was diagnosed with a spinal tumor, she was so thankful that she knew about it.

Today she calls herself and her now husband cancer survivors, and she asked if she could share her story with the Johns Hopkins community. Here it is, in her own words.

"I remember seeing the poster for Work Stride: Managing Cancer at Work, and thinking to myself, Luckily, I don't have cancer in my family. Hmm, I wonder how many people here at JH need that? I thought briefly about some colleagues who had struggled with cancers and had continued working. How brave they were. At the time, it all seemed remote and faraway.

"Within four months of thinking these things, my fiancé was diagnosed with a 5-centimeter spinal tumor. I instantly reached out to Work Stride, and Nurse Rose [Wolfe] answered my email. She advised me on how to complete the medical leave paperwork so I could attend my fiancé's doctors' appointments with him. She listened empathetically as I agonized over how long it was taking for a biopsy, and then the excruciating wait for the pathology report. Then came the waits for appointments and radiation.

"As my fiancé recovered from CyberKnife treatment, she advised that we take each day and find joy in that day. Take a vacation! Breathe! Be grateful! She asked about test results after his first PET scan and helped me understand which values might be important markers of the tumor's demise. I felt confident that she would have chased down test results if I had asked her to. It was nice to have an extra voice to define terms and test results, as it's hard to remember everything during a doctor's visit when you are anxious.

"Having a loved one with cancer is a crash course in biology, with language and treatments that can be overwhelming and alien. When I wondered if a therapist might be helpful for my fiancé, she recommended one. Before and after his latest surgery, I reached out to her, and she showed up. Thanks to Work Stride, Nurse Rose, and the combined skills of the doctors and the extraordinary nurses, my now husband and I consider ourselves cancer survivors. Throughout, we kept our jobs and our sanity."