The Other Side of Melanoma

By Carol Harnett/Benefits Columnist

I remember every detail of the phone call.

My dermatologist's number appeared on my mobile phone's caller I.D. as I headed toward the George Washington Bridge. A series of headlines sped through my brain as she launched into the reason for her call: Biopsy Results! Only 0.024 mm. Stage 1a Melanoma ... .

Then came a sequence of commands about what I needed to do next, including outpatient surgery within seven days. She was so thrown by the news she was delivering, it never occurred to her to ask if I had a pen and paper -- let alone if I was driving a car.

She closed with an emphasis on how minute my lesion was -- picture the head of pin, cut it in half, and continue to cut it in half again and again and again. I was left with an image of a single, pumped-up cell with his arm extended in the air while (pardon the expression) flipping the bird at my oh-so-healthy way of life.

I quickly learned that any type of disability -- including a cancer diagnosis -- is not about you. It's about everyone around you who knows and loves you. My medically well-connected sister and brother-in-law took over where I would receive treatment. It gave them some control over the uncontrollable.

I made a unilateral choice not to tell anyone other than the four people I talked with the first couple of days. I went to my dermatologist's office to sign the release of information so she could forward my records to my brother-in-law. When neither she nor her assistant could make eye contact with me, I realized I never wanted to feel that distance again.

So, why am I now sharing my disability story? Well, on June 30, I hit the five-year mark and am on the other side of melanoma. And, as if the universe aligned itself to my story, I took on the role of president of the Council for Disability Awareness the next day.

I decided to take the personal risk of exposing myself to people who read this column because I wanted to give you a heads up. Forget your employees for a moment. Most likely, you will experience a period of disability. If not one like mine, then a "planned disability period" such as having a child or repairing your bunions; or maybe you'll be out of work due to migraine headaches, asthma mismanagement or back pain.

Let me add that my disability experience is not limited to this anecdote. During my working years, I've had two mountain-biking accidents that placed me on the disabled list, plus one concussion, two stress fractures, two broken toes, three episodes of back pain and a torn MCL. You may call me unlucky; I will tell you I live life off the sidelines. (For all my periods of disability, I've missed exactly one day of work, thanks to mainly working in sedentary occupations for employers that trusted my ability to work remotely or accommodated my temporary restrictions.)

You probably know where I'm headed at this point. You need disability insurance; and so do your employees. As an employer, you don't even have to pay for it. Simply allow a trusted insurance carrier to talk with your workers about voluntary coverage.

So, the next time you're in New York or see a picture of the George Washington Bridge, remember my story. And then, if you haven't already, do something to protect yourself as well as your employees.

Carol Harnett, an expert in the field of employee benefits, can be emailed via

Sep 4, 2014
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