Navigating Breast Cancer and Employment


Common Concerns:

A breast cancer diagnosis can raise a multitude of questions and concerns – not just questions about treatment and healthcare – but also legal questions about employment, insurance and income.

•    What will happen with my job?
•    How do I ask for time off to see my doctor?
•    Can my employer fire me for missing too much work?
•    If I lose my job, what will happen to my insurance benefits?
•    How will I pay my bills?

In the Breast Cancer Legal Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., we often hear questions just like these from our clients. I represent clients who are navigating healthcare access issues, applying for long-term or short-term disability benefits, requesting reasonable accommodations from their employers, appealing health insurance coverage denials, applying for Social Security disability benefits and facing disability discrimination. This article is intended to provide you with general information, not legal advice tailored to your unique situation. It is always best to consult with an attorney about your specific employment or insurance questions before taking any action, but finding an attorney to answer your questions when your income is limited is often a challenge. This article is intended to bring you some comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your concerns and that there are resources and organizations out there to help.

Can my employer fire me for missing too much work?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that can provide up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period to eligible employees who need to take time off work due to a serious health condition or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA does not apply to all employers and employees. To find out whether the FMLA may apply to you or your employer, you can find some general information at these websites:

•    U.S. Department of Labor:
•    Workplace Fairness:
•    Cancer and Careers:

If I lose my job, what will happen to my insurance benefits?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law that gives workers and their families who lose their health insurance benefits the right to choose to continue group health insurance benefits for a limited time under certain circumstances, such as job loss, reduction in hours worked, death, divorce and other life events. To find out more about COBRA, you can visit this website:

•    U.S. Department of Labor:

What will happen with my job, and how do I ask for time off to see my doctor?  

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects “qualified individuals with disabilities” from employment discrimination by qualified employers. Under the ADA, an individual can request a “reasonable accommodation,” such as amodification or adjustment in job responsibilities, schedule or work environment, from a qualified employer.  You can find further information on how the ADA might protect someone with a cancer diagnosis at these websites:

•    U.S. Department of Justice:
•    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
•    For information on requesting a “reasonable accommodation,” you can visit the Job Accommodation Network site at

The Breast Cancer Legal Project (BCLP) and other cancer legal services:

BCLP was created in 2005 to provide cancer-related legal services to low-income breast cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers in metro-Atlanta. We work closely with social workers, healthcare providers and advocates from other nonprofit organizations to identify and resolve the legal issues that negatively impact our clients’ quality of life and impede their ability to focus on survival, treatment and wellness.

Although we specifically serve low-income individuals in the metro-Atlanta area, there are resources available to provide support and guidance to people living with or surviving cancer across the country.

•    The National Cancer Legal Services Network (NCLSN) has a nationwide, online directory of cancer legal services programs. NCLSN “promotes the increased availability of free legal services programs so that people affected by cancer may focus on medical care and their quality of life.”

•    The Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC), a national, joint program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School Los Angeles, “provides free information and resources on cancer-related legal issues to cancer survivors, caregivers, health care professionals, employers, and others coping with cancer.” They also have state-specific information available online and a national, toll-free Telephone Assistance Line (866-THE-CLRC) that individuals can call.

It is both comforting and empowering to be armed with information about your rights. In the Breast Cancer Legal Project, we know that helping our clients navigate the legal challenges that a cancer diagnosis can bring is essential to encouraging peace of mind and maintaining quality of life.

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Categories: Guest Bloggers

Hurricane Sandy Update – November 5, 2012


Dear YSC Constituents, Friends, and Partners –

The building in which YSC’s headquarters is located, at 61 Broadway in downtown Manhattan, re-opened briefly on Monday, November 5, but without heat or phone service. And, we’ve just learned from the building’s management that there will be no heat in the building for the remainder of the week.

Therefore, YSC’s New York office will be closed this week (Nov 5-9th) and, unless the conditions in our office change, the staff in our New York office will be working from home the rest of the week and available via email and their cell phones.

The main YSC phone number is also down as a result of the storm, and we do not have information on when it will be up again. We are deeply sorry for any frustration this might have caused and we will post an update as more of the systems come online.

If you need to reach someone immediately – please email any of the staff below:


Jennifer Merschdorf, CEO:


Stacy Lewis, Program Department:


Lori Atkinson, Community Engagement Department:


Jenna Glazer, Development Department:


Suzanne Beckmann, Marketing and Communications Department:


Heather McGrew, Operations and Finance Department:


We appreciate your patience during this time and stay safe!


Thank you,

Jennifer Merschdorf


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The Power Lies with You

2012 YSC Tour De Pink Riders at the U.S. Capitol

As October winds down and we all begin to shift our focus to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, it is important to remember that our voice matters and we can each make a difference.

We are all so busy balancing our lives that I sometimes question whether a small action I take really does makes a difference. Then I think about how angry I would be if I didn’t have the ability to express my opinion and someone else made my decisions for me. But, it is hard to find the time and I always wonder if anything ever really changes.

It doesn’t help that the national elections are around the corner. On the one hand, they can inspire people to take action for what they believe in; on the other, all the fighting and mud-slinging can be off-putting.

Through my years of working in advocacy, I’ve learned that small steps result in giant movements and the power of the people is larger than most of us think. Because of that strong belief YSC has endeavored to gather 13,000 signatures during the next month on behalf of all the young women with breast cancer in our community.

This is no joke … it’s probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on. It’s very serious and immediate … if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer this is a chance to join the movement. If you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this is an opportunity to advocate for them and join the fight!

I am tired of this disease … and I am tired of young women dying from it.

We are each just an individual, but we have enormous power to enact change when we work together. For that reason, YSC has partnered with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) to help ensure that the voice of the breast cancer community is heard by our President and other elected officials. More important to me, is that the voice of young women diagnosed with breast cancer and all those who love them is also recognized.

The 13,000 signatures represent the 13,000 young women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer during the next year. If you know a young woman affected by breast cancer – this is a way to show her you are willing to use your voice to fight for her!

Sign this petition  and send it to your friends, family and colleagues. Ask them to sign it and send it to everyone they know. Send it to every person you know and remind them that we have the ability to create change if we unite as a community … and we need their help! Send this petition to everyone you can think of … because we must be successful … the YSC community and those who are not able to fight on their own need us!

You have my word – NO ONE who signs this petition will be put on a list and their email addresses will never be used to spam them. I am not trying to build YSC’s database – I am trying to change the conversation.

I wonder how long it will take to collect 13,000 signatures?

The power lies with you.

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I Will Never Forget Tour de Pink 2012


Lisa J. Frank riding in front of Jennifer Merschdorf

Tour de Pink is hard. Some think it might be too hard … but I think it’s just right. It’s supposed to be hard. Because it’s about proving to yourself that you’re just as strong, if not stronger, than everyone else … even though you had breast cancer.

On the final day of our Tour de Pink West Coast ride, the route took us up a hill that was miles long and seemed to go on forever. I’ll be honest … when we started climbing I was a bit worried, but as I got into a routine in my lowest gear, I knew I would get to the top … it was just going to take me awhile.

As I pedaled slowly up the hill, my mind drifted back to my Tour de Pink East Coast ride two weeks earlier and how nervous I was on that first morning. I’d never ridden more than 45 miles at one time and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the challenge ahead of me.

Each day on that first tour, I rode for 6+ hours straight, on hills in Pennsylvania I thought would be the end of the line for me, through the Amish country which was beautiful, the historic battlefields of Gettysburg and further and further south towards our destination of DC.

I was the last rider in on both day one and two of the East Coast ride … but it was hard to feel sorry for myself, since the pride I felt was radiating from my body and obvious to everyone. I rode every day with women I love who inspire me. I was surrounded by a community that wouldn’t let me fail … not succeeding was impossible. And … I did it!!!

One-and-a-half weeks later, I was standing at the start line during the first day of the West Coast ride and I was a different person. I couldn’t wait to get on my bike. The scenery of Southern California as you can see from the photos is beyond beautiful. Riding under the Santa Monica pier, along the Pacific Coast Highway and the smell of the ocean along the way – was amazing.

As I’m remembering all of these incredible experiences from my first double TdP adventure – I’m still climbing that hill that would never end.  My legs are starting to burn and I’m wondering if I need to pull over and rest before continuing on. And at that exact moment, I feel the hand of an elite cyclist (who is also riding in TdP) on my back and he PUSHES ME up the hill!!! I was so excited, thankful and relieved. My legs were able to rest for a few minutes as I gained my strength. He said a few words of encouragement and confirmed I was good to keep going on my own. As he let go, I felt the weight of the hill back on my legs. But, I still can’t believe what I saw next … he turned around and rode back down this giant hill to go get another survivor and push her up.

That is Tour de Pink.

Rider helping rider in Tour de Pink West Coast

The tour is about strength, determination,and hard work … but it’s also about the sense of community, family and love that we feel for each other. In so many ways you could say that Tour de Pink shows the best side of humanity for three days … and 200 miles, which we all need to experience to help remind us how good the world and humans can be.

And one final comment: To all the survivors who rode this year – no matter which coast you rode on … You are an inspiration to me and to everyone whose life you touched this year. Congratulations on a job well done!!! I hope to see you next year!!!

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Categories: Taking my Body Back

Lisa J. Frank


31 Faces, 31 Days - Breast Cancer Isn't Pretty, and It Isn't Pink

Lisa Frank — YSC Founding Member, Board President and YSC Tour de Pink® Co-Founder

Lisa with her family.

From l. to r., Father Jerry, brother Paul and mother Carol with Lisa at TdP East Coast.

It was 1998; I was 36 and focused on my career as a lawyer. I was enjoying time with friends and having fun dating when I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. There was a history of cancer in my family but not breast cancer. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. I was living a busy life and had no plans of stopping.

After my lumpectomy, I went through chemotherapy and radiation and took Tamoxifen. I was so fortunate to have the love and support of my family and friends who were with me every step of the way.

By 2004, I was back to living my life and thought my cancer journey was over. On August 31, I felt something in the scar tissue on my left breast and was re-diagnosed — this time with stage II breast cancer.

Lisa with partner Steve.

Lisa with partner Steve.

I didn’t want to feel like I would always have this weight on my shoulders worrying when the cancer would show up in the other breast, so I opted for a bilateral (double) mastectomy. I was in a relationship with a wonderful man, and my breasts were not going to define me. Cancer wasn’t going to win.

Since the beginning, I was part of Young Survival Coalition (YSC) and connected with other young women who faced breast cancer. With each diagnosis I called my YSC support network to get help. I had questions and needed all the information I could get about treatment and reconstruction options. I could be open and honest with this group without fear of scaring them or sanitizing my concerns.

When I completed surgery for my mastectomy and began to heal, I started to feel like myself again. Since 1994 I had been cycling and had even completed numerous AIDS multi-day charity bike rides.  After my recurrence in 2004, I was mostly off my bike, but I wanted to get back on it.

At the finish of Tour de Pink West Coast

At the finish of Tour de Pink West Coast.

In 2004, a fellow YSC volunteer, who was himself an avid cyclist and racer, and I created the idea of a long distance bike ride to raise money to support YSC and raise awareness that young women can get breast cancer. There weren’t any official bike rides supporting breast cancer, and we saw this as a great opportunity to give back and have a great adventure together. I didn’t ride the first year because I was still recovering, but I organized the fundraising and ride logistics.

This ride became the annual YSC Tour de Pink East Coast ride. To date, YSC Tour de Pink has generated more than $6 million to support young women affected by breast cancer and consists of three outdoor bike rides, with indoor events around the country.

In 2011, as I was about to become YSC’s Board president I found out my breast cancer had returned. This time it spread to my parotid gland, spine, lower back and sacrum. I was 49 and facing breast cancer again. But, like before, I knew I would win this round and got right down to doing just that!

I recently celebrated my 51st birthday and am so proud of that. Every day I wake up and say, “I will fight this. I will live and live well for a long time.” I look forward to telling everyone who asks how old I am. Every birthday is a good one because not having a birthday, well, I don’t consider that an option.


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Help Focus the Presidential Candidates’ Attention on Breast Cancer

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we hear lots of stories about women who have survived their breast cancer. And yet, this year about 40,000 women and 450 men will die from this disease in the United States. It will take the lives of almost 500,000 women worldwide. It’s taken the lives of far too many women we have known and loved. It’s time to change these statistics. It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end breast cancer.

A little more than two years ago when we set a deadline to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020—Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®—we were frustrated by the lack of progress and by the complacency in our nation’s approach to breast cancer. We continue to be frustrated that despite the advances in technology and our knowledge about the science of breast cancer, nearly 290,000 women and men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in this country next year. We are frustrated that while we watch policy makers proudly light up buildings in pink this month, they ignore the opportunities to do something meaningful toward ending this disease.

I am peeved, but not surprised that, although the National Breast Cancer Coalition has asked both Presidential candidates to make ending breast cancer by 2020 a national priority, during the Presidential debates on Wednesday there was no discussion about breast cancer. It is time to disrupt the business and system of breast cancer. It’s time to demand our President demonstrate leadership and commit to making the end of breast cancer a national priority. Time to create an innovative environment for breast cancer research that will lead us toward the eradication of the disease—once and for all.

NBCC is asking all those who want to see an end to breast cancer to sign our Petition to the President. We will collect 290,000 signatures—representing the number of women and men who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in this country next year. And we will deliver them to the President shortly after Inauguration Day. We are asking him to bring this nation’s leadership, intellectual and creative forces to bear on a matter of utmost importance to everyone, around the world.

If you’ve not yet signed the Petition to the President, please do so now. If you have signed, please email five friends and ask them to sign the petition. Or download the petition to collect signatures and mail them to us.

The election is next month. Please help us focus the Presidential candidates’ attention on meaningful issues in breast cancer.

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Categories: Guest Bloggers

“I’ve got this hill … I’ve been training for 8 hours a day for the last 2 days!”

Day One Finish: Kristin Westbrook, Marcia Donziger and Me

Well, I did it! I needed to prove to myself that cancer had not beaten me … and I did. With the amazing support of friends who rode with me (specifically, Kristin Westbrook and Marcia Donziger who never left my side), my husband and the entire Tour de Pink community – I rode my bike for 200 miles this past weekend … TAKE THAT CANCER!!!

There are too many amazing stories to recount, and too many incredible people to mention … but what’s important is that because of YSC no other event like this exists to give young women with breast cancer the support and encouragement they need to do this.

And I did it!!!

Now, and I have to be honest – I  wasn’t the first one across the finish line each day. Day one AND day two I actually was dead last, but I didn’t care. I was too proud (and tired) to worry about my ranking.

It isn’t about riding every mile. It’s is about pushing yourself harder than you have since cancer and proving to YOURSELF, and no one else, that cancer didn’t beat you. And whether you ride 75 miles during the weekend or the entire 200, as long as you feel awesome … YSC has achieved its mission!!!

YSC is excited to be working with Capture14 as the Tour de Pink event photographer taking some of the most amazing photos I think I have ever seen. He’s generously offered to donate 50% of what he sells back to YSC. These photos capture of essence of the ride … It’s hard, but beautiful. Intense, but warm. Long, but also too short.

For all of you doing the West Coast ride … we have ONE WEEK to go!!! I can’t wait to see all of you! Please feel free to have your friends sign up and join you for one-day rides and encourage people to cheer us on at our designated cheering stations.

As the 2012 Tour de Pink East Coast ride comes to a close…. I leave you with one last thing:

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Categories: Taking my Body Back

Breast Cancer Isn’t Pretty, and It’s Not Pink

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t understand that October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM). Sure, I might have noticed pink around this time of year and maybe given a donation to support women with breast cancer, but October was about Halloween, preparing for winter and the holidays … not cancer. Well, not anymore.

Rewind two years to October 2010. I was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and preparing for my second surgery and treatment … I suddenly began to see pink everywhere. I remember wondering if it was always there and I just hadn’t noticed it … or if it was the time of year.

Now, October is the busiest time of year in my professional life. Pink is everywhere … it’s in the media, in print publications, on products with pink ribbons. The public seems singularly focused on breast cancer.

Each one of us has a different feeling about October. Some people cover themselves in pink to remind others of someone they have lost or that a cure is still needed. Others might reject anything pink with a passion.

The point is October is just a month – nothing more, nothing less. What we really should be focusing on is that there is currently no way to prevent breast cancer from occurring and we are still not able to cure the disease. Young women are being diagnosed every day – women just starting their careers, building lives, getting married, happily expecting a child or raising young children. Yes, many women live long lives after breast cancer, but the fact is that young women are still dying of breast cancer every day. This is not acceptable.

If you want to wear pink this October by all means do so – I know I will be – but please also help YSC raise awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer and remind people that breast cancer isn’t all pretty pink ribbons. We need to end to this disease.

#1 YSC is collecting signatures to represent the more than 13,000 young women who are diagnosed annually for NBCC’s petition to the next President (whomever that might be) to make ending breast cancer one of his initiatives. Please sign the petition today and get it into the hands of your family, friends and co-workers.

#2 AND we are going to tell the stories of 31 young women affected by breast cancer to showcase some of the unique issues young women battling this disease face. Please leave these courageous women a message of support on our special Facebook “31 Faces, 31 Days” app and share their stories with your friends.

Because the reality is – young women can and do get breast cancer – and they still die from it every day.

Breast cancer isn’t pretty, and it’s not pink. Please join me in getting these amazing stories of young women affected by breast cancer out in the public and gathering as many signatures are we possibly can!!!

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This Ride Is Not About Winning

The first of two Tour de Pink rides happening this weekend starts tomorrow, and I can’t tell if I am nervous that it will be too hard, excited for the challenge or anxious to have this behind me … probably a combination of all three.

I have to be honest, the thought of “what in the heck did I get myself into?” has crossed my mind a few times during the past month. Long gone are the days when a quick one-hour ride was something to look forward to — now I feel that if I am going to be on the bike, I need to be riding 50 miles, which, at my speed, pretty much eats up the entire day.

The East Coast Tour de Pink ride starts at the Philadelphia Art Museum tomorrow (Friday, September 28) morning. There will be 72 survivors riding, which is incredible!!! That means that out of the 249 people riding, 29% have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are now strong enough to ride 200 miles!

This ride is not about winning, it is about being part of a young woman’s journey to create her “new normal.” So many of these women have faced challenges greater then a huge hill on a bike, yet that huge hill takes the same strength and determination to conquer that breast cancer did.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about last year’s Tour de Pink ride, which I watched as an observer. I remember thinking “there is no way I could ever do that” as I watched the survivors climb onto their bikes day after day. I remember feeling amazed by the net of support that the community of riders makes around every survivor. I remember a longing to be strong again and to live without pain.

It feels like everywhere you turn these days someone is riding, walking or running for a cause. And to every one of you who donated to Tour de Pink in some way, thank you from the bottom of my heart! YSC expects to raise over $750,000 this weekend! Thanks to you, YSC is able to continue supporting all young women affected by breast cancer and ensure that no young woman facing breast cancer ever has to feel alone.

For those of you who live between Philly and D.C. – or know people who do – please come and cheer on our survivors and riders!!!  For the first time, YSC is setting up cheering stations – so come out and join us!!!

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Categories: Taking my Body Back

Remembering Kathleen (Kat) Werner, Breast Cancer Advocate, Volunteer and YSC Board Member

In Remembrance
Kathleen (Kat) Werner

Dear Breast Cancer Community,

We are deeply saddened by the loss of a fierce advocate, compassionate leader and member of our Board of Directors, Kat Werner. Kat died suddenly Sunday, September 23, as the result of a blood clot, about one week after giving birth to her fourth child. She was 37 years old.

Kat fulfilled so many roles in breast cancer advocacy, support and outreach. YSC and the community at large have suffered a tremendous loss. Kat’s intelligent approach to problems large and small, her generous supportive nature and overall zest for life were inspiring to us all. Kat had a remarkable ability to translate the research and science of breast cancer into information that was digestible for newly diagnosed women and explained the impact of science and research findings throughout the advocacy community. She often helped to lead the dialogue between advocates, survivors and researchers – gaining the respect, admiration and appreciation of them all.

Kat worked in breast cancer research advocacy full-time for various organizations including Young Survival Coalition, National Institute of Health, the Cochrane Collaboration, American Cancer Society, the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, Research Advocacy Network, the National Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She was a graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD Institute, Research Advocacy Network Focus on Research, American Association for Cancer Research’s Scientist ↔ Survivor program, and the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation’s Advocate Program.

In 2011, YSC was honored to have Kat join its Board of Directors (news release) as a strong voice for all young women with breast cancer, particularly those that connect using social media. As a young survivor, Kat supported countless other young women through their breast cancer diagnosis using Facebook, the YSC message boards and tirelessly volunteering.

Kat was funny, open-minded, engaging and never judged. Her warmth made it easy for young women to open up, listen and exchange perspectives. Her enthusiasm and unwavering dedication will be greatly missed and we will work to honor her by continuing to further the mission of YSC.

Kat leaves behind her husband of 13 years, Jeff, and their four children: Bethany, Liam, Elise and Micah (who was born last week).

Kat, we will miss your leadership, determination and passion.


The YSC Board of Directors

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Categories: Guest Bloggers