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The importance of employee wellbeing: my breast cancer story

05 Mar 2024

By Nichette Smits, Senior Accounting Officer

In July 2013, I was invited for a routine breast screening examination (mammography) by Fundashon Prevenshon, a foundation that conducts preventive research in Curaçao on, among other things, breast cancer and colon cancer.

Two weeks later, my GP called to inform me that an abnormality had been found on the mammogram. A whole shiver went through me. I was immediately tense, and it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. During my visit to the GP, he informed me that I had a tumor that needed further examination.

After further examinations and a partial surgery, it was revealed that I had breast cancer (adeno carcinoma). My world closed. I thought: What now? Is this it? How long do I still have? What will happen to my children and my work?

Wellbeing support is a matter of diversity and inclusion

Over 27% of the population in Curacao have a long-term health problem. Elsewhere, it’s estimated over 15 million people in the UK have a long-term health condition, and 133 million Americans. This is a substantial percentage of workers.

Without inclusive policies, like flexible working arrangements and return-to-work support, businesses alienate a section of society which is bright, experienced, and diverse.

A significant amount of hours in your day is spent working, and it forms a part of our identity. I’ve worked at IQ-EQ since 1999 – that’s 25 years of my life. My breast cancer journey turned my whole life upside down and I needed extra support in both my personal life as well as my professional life.

How can employers be inclusive with long-term illness?

IQ-EQ provided me with flexible hours and time off where needed. They also have a phased return-to-work plan that allowed me to slowly return to the office and ease me into full-time work again.

Research suggests that flexible working increases productivity, retains and attracts talent and improves employee engagement levels. Additionally, CIPD reported that people managers can have a significant impact on employees with a long-term health condition or illness, both physical and mental. How we’re supported, directly or indirectly, can make the difference in someone leaving work altogether, or staying and adapting how they work.

Difficult roads can lead to beautiful destinations

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and everything I’ve been through, I see life through different eyes. I only have time for fun things and things I want to do. Work was a distraction during my healing journey. I could make jokes again and make the people around me laugh.

Where would I be today if I didn’t have my children, partner, mother, brother, sisters, friends, colleagues and acquaintances? They were all a great support to me.

Without the support of an inclusive employer, those with long-term illnesses risk losing their jobs, income, and support outside of the family. Employees living with health problems deserve to be treated fairly and with compassion.

If the future of business is inclusive, then it’s crucial for businesses and their leaders to create a culture of support and understanding.

I’m doing my best to stay positive in life and advise everyone to regularly request a complete examination from their GP. Listen to your body. Never give up, and if you have any concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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