The Whole-Person Workplace Column: When It Hits Close to Home

Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC: When it Hits Close to Home

Director, WorkLife Office

Spartans are amazing - I want to start there. Please know that what I am sharing today is to help other Spartans. We have amazing faculty and staff who are smart, kind, compassionate, and knowledgeable at MSU. One of the best parts of my job has been watching our Spartans help other Spartans. Many of the resources in the MSU WorkLife Office (WLO) allow this to happen, like our resource lists created through our many listservs. Consider joining these lists for times you need assistance, or in times where you can help others.  

April 1, 2022, I accepted the role of Director of the MSU WorkLife Office, a position I have worked my entire career to obtain. On May 3, I was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer. That month was a roller coaster of emotions, and it has been ever since. Having spent most of my career advocating for others, now it was my turn to use all those skills to advocate for myself. Our office supports workplace flexibility, family-friendly policies, and supporting the employee as a whole person. We work very hard to practice these values in our office, and in our daily lives.  

Let me back up for a moment... 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our office was short-staffed. From March 2021 – January 2022, I filled three positions in the office. Like much of MSU, we were temporarily affected by the hiring freeze. In June 2021, I began covering all four roles in the office, and it proved to be a very busy ten months. There was an increase in our services due to the nature of our work. Before that, beginning March 13, 2020, when many Spartans went home to work, we had an increase in the support we were providing to our MSU faculty and staff, as well as their families.  

This was a difficult time for most in our community. We were glad to be able to support our Spartan community with increased programming and connections. I was able to pivot and work from home in an efficient and effective way. Starting in December 2020, I really felt tired and run down - most everyone I talked to did as well. I was anxious about going into public, like going to the doctor, unless it was necessary. To combat my exhaustion, I rallied. I took a nap after work, I went to bed early, I tried to get outside for walks every day. As time went on, there were days that I was so tired I could not even lift my arms off my chair. My body felt heavy...I started to wonder if something else was going on.  

In January 2022, I was able to hire two new staff members! I made it a priority to invest in training them. Then, in March, I began to schedule all those doctors’ appointments that I had put off. I started scheduling them: dentist, endocrinologist, dermatologist, mammogram, optometry, etc. For two years, I had pushed off most of my routine medical appointments. I know I am not alone; I have come to learn that many people postponed routine medical appointments. This April, I had my mammogram. I was called back for a closer look. Then, I was called back at the end of April for a needle biopsy. Then, in early May, I was called with the results. I have breast cancer.  

I am writing this today in hopes that whoever is reading this makes their health a top priority. I put my work, and my family needs above my own needs. Many of us operate this way, women most of all. I did not listen to that voice inside that said, “You should not be this tired. Something is going on.” One day, not long ago, I said to my spouse, “I just feel too off. This can’t be COVID exhaustion anymore. Shoot, what if I have cancer or something?” By that time, I had scheduled those medical appointments. I have no cancer in my family, and I do not have any high-risk factors. But I did have intuition that something was off, and it was. I did not know it yet, but I was sick – I am sick.  

Looking back, I wish I had not delayed my medical appointments. If you are reading this and realize you have put yours off, please consider checking in with your medical providers. Like Maya Angelou says, “If we don’t work, nothing else will.” This means if I am not healthy, I can’t be the best mother, spouse, employee, daughter, friend, or volunteer and neither can you. You are worth investing in yourself.  

Since I have been sharing this message, I have heard from over 30 people, including some of the closest people to me, that they have scheduled their mammograms and their other health appointments. I try very hard not to have regret. I don’t know how long I have had this cancer growing inside of me. Now, I am 1/3 of the way through my chemotherapy, and the tumor has already shrunk considerably. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful supportive workplace, good health insurance, a savings account I grew over the past year by working one night a week at a second job, and the most supportive family, friends, and Spartans around. I am going to beat this.  

How has our Spartan community helped me? With a great deal of information and support! I posted on the MSU Support Staff Facebook page about certain benefits I was denied through BCN. I also posted this to our community of Spartans on the MSU WLO Family List (we also have a Resource List) and received over 30 replies, including how to get what I needed covered. Spartans are here for me, and they are here for you! These connection points are invaluable!  

Here is information about our listservs: https://worklife.msu.edu/listserv. You can subscribe or unsubscribe at any time. If you have a confidential need that you would like information or referrals about, you can email worklife@msu.edu and we can obtain the resources and referrals on your behalf.  

To all my fabulous Spartan colleagues, your support has been overwhelming. I can’t imagine going through all of this without you. Remember that not one of us is here alone. If you need support, please reach out to worklife@msu.edu and we will help point you in the right direction. 

Many people have asked me what they can do to help. Please get your health appointments scheduled. We need you here and healthy - not just here at MSU, but on earth. You are worth it.