Northern Ireland

Cancer patient calls for more workplace support

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionReturning to work has given Lynette McKendry something else to focus on

A County Antrim woman who is returning to work while fighting cancer has called for more support for others in her position.

Lynette McKendry had inflammatory breast cancer in one breast and a different form of cancer in the other.

Image caption Mrs McKendry had a double mastectomy in February and is on a phased return to work

She had a double mastectomy in February and is on a phased return to work.

Mrs McKendry works for the Department of Justice and said it has fully supported her, but others have not been so lucky with other employers.

"I know of one girl whose line manager did not contact her for the entire six months she was off," she told BBC News NI.

"Then they were on the phone every two weeks asking her when she was coming back to work.

Image caption There are currently more than 20,000 people aged 15-64 living with cancer in Northern Ireland

"I found that even when I was off colleagues were regularly in contact, they visited me so then I didn't feel so isolated from the workplace."

Mrs McKendry has chosen to work between home and the office, and said her employer and line manager had been excellent.

"I think it's critical that the employer is there to support the employee during their time off, as well as trying to get them back into work either during or after their treatment is finished.

"If the support isn't there then it can be a lot more traumatic."

She had tried hard to normalise an extremely difficult situation, said Mrs McKendry.

Image caption Mrs McKendry also spoke to the BBC before her double mastectomy to raise awareness of inflammatory breast cancer

"I am trying to keep everything as normal as possible for the kids, for my husband and for me," she said.

There are currently more than 20,000 people aged 15 to 64 living in Northern Ireland with cancer and, according to Macmillan Cancer Support, people are often forced to leave work.

Paula Kealey, from the charity, said there needed to be greater awareness among employers about dealing with cancer.

"Almost half of people here living with cancer have to make significant changes to their working life after diagnosis, with some having to leave their jobs completely," said Ms Kealey.

"Employers have an obligation to do the right thing under the Disability Discrimination Act, which protects people who have cancer from discrimination at work.

"We are urging employers to have the conversation and to have flexibility."

Image caption Mrs McKendry's boss, Alison McIlveen has backed her employee's call for more support

Mrs McKendry's boss, Alison McIlveen, said: "We have a responsibility to do what we can and see how we can support people back into the workplace.

"It's important that we help them to normalise their lives and at the same time do our best to mitigate the impact it has on the business.

"For larger companies or employers that is easier than for smaller companies."

Related Topics

More on this story