Latanya Jenkins Worked Herself to Death Say Friends
- Latanya Jenkins, 45, was an employee at Temple University, where since 2012 she had worked at the school’s Africology and African American studies department
- She had been fighting breast cancer for years before her death in April, and would go to work even after chemo to avoid possible disciplinary action for six sick days
- Almost all full-time workers are entitled to time off and job security if there should experience a medical emergency as part of the Family Care Act
Latanya Jenkins was an employee at Temple University, where since 2012 she had worked at the school’s Africology and African American studies department.Read More
One month before she reached that milestone, she lost her battle with breast cancer, a disease she fought while making sure to miss no more than six school days per year on account of Temple’s policy.
SurvivorNet was able to confirm the details of that policy, which allow employees 10 sick days per year but warns them of disciplinary action should they take more than six.
The unused days then role over, but ultimately go unused, according to two employees who are in the same union as Jenkins.
Both of those individuals said they were hesitant to take more than three or four sick days in a year because the school will dock a half day in the event an employee arrives to work more than an hour late.
“We have 6,500 employees,” Sharon Boyle, Temple’s vice president of human resources, said in a statement. “We don’t have a lot of fat at Temple, we’re state-funded, we try to keep our costs low because access is important to us.”
“They ran her into the ground,” says Jenkins’s mentee Fobazi Ettarh. “No one can know what could have happened if she had worked for a more caring organization.”
It was Ettarh who first brought this story to light on her own blog, writing a post on the same day she learned about Jenkins’ death.
“And all I keep thinking is how Temple Libraries refused to let her take the time she needed to heal. How ‘the love of libraries’ was used as a bludgeon against advocating for your own health and wellness,” wrote Ettarh, who suffers from sickle cell anemia.
“Not only was she unable to take sick days w/o being punished, but she, like so many of us disabled folk, couldn’t work from home. She had to come to work directly after chemo or risk losing her job and health insurance.”
She then asked: “All that wasted energy to drag oneself to work and for what?”
Jenkins’ co-workers say that she would report to work after chemo despite feeling exhausted and fatigued, afraid of the 3-day suspension or termination she could face.
She was particularly fearful about losing health insurance given her cancer diagnosis.
There was reason to be fearful, say her co-workers, who note that after Jenkins was admitted to the hospital earlier this year, she was forced to call into her supervisor from her hospital bed each day to confirm she had not yet been released by her doctor.
After a bout with COVID, Jenkins started to fear she would not get tenure because of her absences, friends say, and she was looking around for new jobs while performing her daily duties.
“All of that energy that she could have been spending fighting for her life, she spent fighting for her career,” notes her best friend, Maraizu Onyenaka.
Take Time Off to Better Fight the Disease
Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer are in the same boat as Jenkins. Some are even too afraid to tell their employer that they have cancer for fear of losing their job.
There are protections in place, however, for most full-time employees even if they run out of available days.
Sarah Stapleton, a licensed clinical social worker at Montefiore Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet that if an individual’s cancer treatment is going to impact their work it behooves them to tell their employer sooner rather than later.
Once a treatment plan is in place, it is time to see how much time off will be needed, and if that time off is available to each person through their employer.
If not, there is a law that allows employees to take time off and still keep their job.
“Family Medical Leave Act allows you some [time off work] that’s generally unpaid but allows your job security,” explains Stapleton. “So if you have cancer treatments, sometimes patients can work through their treatment at the beginning, but then their side effects become too overwhelming or other things come up. And at that point, if they have exhausted all their vacation and sick days, the next option is Family Medical Leave.”
That requires documentation from a healthcare provider to be submitted to the person’s employer.
“We encourage people to continue to work if they’re able to. I think it creates a sense of normalcy for patients, and you’re not at home wondering and worrying about what’s gonna happen with your treatment,” says Stapleton. “But there are definitely, realistically, times when treatment makes it so that people are unable to work.”
Work Less, Recover More
If there is no way to miss work, another option is to speak with a superior and try to lessen responsibilities on certain days.
That is what Brittany Beadle did after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Beadle is an employee at Universal Studios who is also getting targeted chemotherapy once every three weeks for the rest of her life.
“Because it is targeted I don’t lose my hair or anything like that, but I do get sick the next day. I’ll feel like I have the worst hangover of my life or someone hit me by a bus,” she tells SurvivorNet.
Despite that nausea and weakness, Beadle does not take the next day off because it would amount to 17 days off per year.
“I’ll go into work the day of chemo, the day after chemo and I’ll work through it even though I’m sick. I don’t want my life to stop just because I have to get this treatment. I keep going,” she notes.
She says that this is only possible because of the support she gets from her employer.
“I’m a ride attendant at ET at Universal Studios so I’m operating the ride. I’m putting people on the ride and getting them through,” explains Beadle. “On the days that I’m sick they’ll put me at easier positions like greeting people or they’ll put me at a place we type in names at a computer. They’ll put me at easier places where I just stand there pretty much. They’re pretty good with that.”
That makes a huge difference for Beadle, who knows she can focus on her health and not have to exert herself on the day her body is working to recover from the previous day’s chemo.
Plus, she gets an extra morale boost when she needs it most.
“All my team members, they’re so supportive and they’re always there for me and they’re making sure I’m okay and everything,” says Beadle.