'Employers should not be able to fire a cancer patient'

Jordanian expat tells of isolating experience when she was sacked after having breast cancer diagnosed

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Cancer has failed to diminish the sunny outlook on life of Jordanian survivor Hana Abu Lughod.

The radio presenter found out she had breast cancer in May at just 32, less than two years after losing her dad to lung cancer.

Living through her father’s illness gave Hana a unique perspective on how many people treated cancer patients, and she has been documenting her struggles through a blog.

The biggest challenge, she said, was not living with the uncertainty of cancer itself – but the financial impact it had on her life and the new way she was treated by friends.

Hana’s positive outlook has helped carry her through a double mastectomy in her home country, where she was forced to go after losing her job, visa and health insurance.

Her care has cost more than Dh250,000 to date, and without the support of local charities, she would have been in a dire position.

“I’m trying to get back to life, but the problem with this journey was not the cancer, but the people around me,” she said.

“There was no support, everyone was asking when I was going back to Jordan, but I wanted to stay in the UAE where my life is now.

“People kept asking why I was still here? It was like they expected me to go home to die.”

Hana had eight cycles of chemotherapy, and four immunotherapy treatments before she lost her job and her health insurance ended.

Charitable donations from Friends of Cancer Patients and Al Jalila Foundation covered the cost of her treatment but she was forced to return home to Jordan for surgery and a breast reconstruction paid for under the government’s healthcare plan.

Once recovered, she tried to return to Dubai to sort out her flat and look for work but found further financial hardship.

“My end of service payment was delayed, and I had asked for an extension to my visa, but my employer wouldn’t help as I needed to return to Dubai to look for a new job,” she said.

“It was only when my boss personally got involved that the HR department finally resolved the issue. This situation is not uncommon but it is inhumane.

“Employers should not be able to fire a cancer patient. You can’t leave someone like this, without health insurance.

“The system here does not support people who fall seriously ill who then lose their jobs.”

Now back in Dubai, Hana is determined to put her skills and experience to use back in the media industry – but is finding it difficult.

Doctors have given her the all-clear but she must have regular check-ups for the foreseeable future.

“People should understand not everyone with cancer is dying; you can carry on working and you still need your friends around you,” she said.

“Isolating the patient is not helpful. Since having breast cancer, I have met many other women like me, also forced out of their jobs.

“Some are cabin crew and have bills to pay. We need to have the financial support, as treatment here is very expensive.”

To read Hana's blog, visit www.hanafighter.com.