Fleurette Rafic worked for NYU for 38 years of her life. When she got cancer, NYU fired her. Please Facebook share this blog & follow me on Twitter to let NYU know we don’t accept this treatment of our survivors. #LoveOurSurvivors
May 15, 2015
Dear Dr. Robert I. Grossman, Dean and CEO of NYU Langone Medical Center:
I know you run a wonderful organization. That is why I know you will be horrified to learn that management fired my mother after 38 years of her life working for New York University Medical Center. She was fired for having breast cancer.
Upon her diagnosis, she followed all doctors’ orders. She was lucky to have the care of top medical staff at your renowned facility. In March of 2011, she wrote you a letter of detailed compliment on the wonderful medical personnel at NYUMC, praising staff by name. Check your records- it was addressed to you and signed, “One Grateful Survivor.”
And now, I am writing to you on my mother’s behalf because she passed away shortly after she was fired in May of 2012.
After a superb year of remission, my mother had returned to work. She worked- even suffering through harassment from coworkers and managers alike- because she was focused on being a productive employee. Through inappropriate comments about her weight loss and malicious questions regarding her hair, she continued to work because that job was so much a part of her essence after 38 years.
Yet, in April 2012, when Dr. Roses ordered a necessary procedure, my mother was threatened that if she did not return to work on a certain date, her employment would be terminated.
Dr. Roses faxed the detailed medical explanation of the necessary two-week time period, yet it made no difference. The threat was not removed by management.
Of course, my mother followed the orders of her doctor. After returning home from her inpatient stay, she was greeted with a letter terminating her from employment for failure to return to work. Clearly, she could not return to work because she was recovering from surgery.
Just six months later, my mother died.
Because of the vast support by medical professionals that state of mind and emotional health have direct effects on our biology, we cannot ignore the possibility- the great probability- that one termination links to the other. Getting fired in such horrific fashion affected Fleurette so strongly that on her deathbed, she evoked a promise from me to share this story with you.
“Don’t let this go, Mary,” she said to me, with her kerchief askew atop her head of few remaining hairs, with her eyes still blazing with the painful indignity of management’s wrongful act.
Imagine how much grief she carried during the very brief time after being fired- grief that never left her. Please imagine 38 years of a life dedicated to NYUMC. My mother gave birth to both her daughters there. Employees knew me before I was even born. Both my broken arms were healed at your hospital. My father’s appendicitis was treated there. My sister’s finger was operated on Dr. Raskin in Hand Surgery. NYU is my alma mater. And lastly, my mother received her oncology care from NYUMC. I want you to see how intrinsic to her life NYUMC was.
To fire her because she had to take medical leave for oncological surgery is utterly crass beyond words, Dr. Grossman. I believe you must be a just and humane person and you will see in your heart the cruel injustice of management’s action.
While my mother might have been of age to retire in a few years, the choice was taken away from her in humiliating fashion.
I urge you, in all good, humane, public conscience, to do the only right thing you can do now:
1.Publish and post prominently in the facility an immediate acknowledgement and apology for what New York University Medical Center did to Fleurette Rafic, a productive employee of 38 years, and a former breast cancer survivor.
2.Create a training program specifically geared towards this situation to prevent this event from recurring to another survivor. Management of the NYUMC organization should not be allowed to engage in this behavior again.
3.Contact personally the members of management responsible with appropriate chastisement and training and demand a public letter of acknowledgement and apology.
Marek Brzozowski, Director of Inpatient Revenue Cycle and Financial Services, issued the threat and subsequent termination.
Elizabeth A. Marin (“Liz”), manager at the time, was responsible for my mother’s harassment.
I look forward to your response, confirming that you will accomplish these goals.
Thank you for your time, Dr. Grossman.
Mary Rafic, Daughter of “One Grateful Survivor”
Well, what an eventful October and November we had.
In hindsight, my sister’s second tearful message did not strike me at the time as the foreboding it was. Another mile marker passed, on this sad and strange trip to a destination as yet unacknowledged by me.
Driving, zooming, from my workplace to the hospital site to assist, I listened to my sister’s tale of a strange encounter with the Patient Relations Director. Incredulously, he had decided to ban her from the room for being “disruptive.”
I entered the scene with a neutral disposition, intending to discover facts only; I waited patiently for fifteen minutes before I could discuss the issue with the Director. Meanwhile, my tension level was growing because no one could be by my mother’s side right at that moment. Was she writhing in pain? Had she pushed the nurse button and gotten no response? Did she need to use the restroom? But I remained calm and focused on resolving the issue with the Director.
When I finally had opportunity to meet the man, I politely asked the nature of my sister’s “disruption.” Three times I asked, yet his response was simply to repeat the phrase, “She was disruptive,” in a bizarre Abbot & Costello routine I could not escape. Finally, after my third repetition of the yet unanswered question, the Patient Relations Director seemed to implode a little. Or maybe a lot. Like a plump, boiled plum, he swelled and reddened, giving me the oddest response, no logic or maturity tied to it.
“Don’t try me.”
It might not read as ludicrous as it sounded. But those words were the most ridiculous I could have heard at that moment. Were we in a street fight? Was he my teacher? I had difficulty making sense of this phrase. I simply asked for details on his decision. And that was the response. Stunned, I could only repeat his phrase, “Don’t try me” questioningly.
And incredibly, his next move was to call the police on my sister and me for trespassing. All, of course, under the guise of “protecting patient safety.”
So while my mother lay alone in an unfamiliar place, my sister and I were negotiating our way out of unwarranted trouble. Thankfully, this police officer was clearly of sound reason and found no justification to remove us from the premises.
Finding himself with no legal support, Mr. Patient Relations Director proved himself a blatant liar by now insisting that he never forbade me from going to visit my mother in her room. Fine. I was permitted to visit my own mother. With a laughably unnecessary escort of three women, I was guided to my mother’s room.
I wished she could have a moment of true awareness just to laugh with me at the ridiculousness of this situation. She was the one who had taught us to laugh. She would have laughed. And I hope she may be now.
She had also taught us to fight and not lie down. So I fought to have her discharged into hospice at home care.
My mother had her mastectomy March 2010.
March 2011, my son and I were lucky to have her on a vacation to Nickelodeon Hotels. I am glad she came. She almost did not because her job was giving her a hard time about using her accrued vacation days.
Anyway, at the hotel, they were giving away Birthday pins. My mother shouted, “It is my birthday! I am ONE year old!” in celebration of one year of life after her mastectomy. Here is a picture of the pin. I wear it on the scarf she wore in her last moments with us.
My two breasts are perfect
I look down and reflect
So round and full, soft and smooth
As they sway to their own groove
No longer quite erect,
Yet their beauty I respect
They are healthy, they are strong
No matter what comes along
Bleak worries I deflect
Criticisim I reject
I’ll never need an upgrade
I refuse to be afraid.
I find myself terrorized sometimes, viscerally fearful of cancer. I have to admit, I am afraid of getting cancer. Whether of the breast or other. I am sure others of you are as well. How can we not be? It is everywhere. Statistics show us in a very tight spot. Conspiracy theories abound, and I don’t have a preference, but I find it hard to believe the Cancer terrorism does not have a face behind it somewhere.
SO…. what do I do? Face my fear and write it out here. Write a poem against it as if I am casting a spell of protection around myself. I wish it were that simple.
I just realized that I can’t keep lying to myself that I am NOT afraid. Because I am. Getting a mammogram – once I have done it since my mother’s initial diagnosis- and it was far too emotionally gutting for me. I can’t bring myself to do it again. And I know, I know that I should.
SO… instead, I write a poem. Maybe it will make someone smile somewhere or feel strong- even if it’s false or temporary. Everything is temporary, anyway… even pain.
You’re supporting a loved one surviving cancer.
Or maybe you are a survivor yourself. You have more physical and emotional courage than anyone outside can imagine. You deserve the rewards of your efforts. You deserve the opportunity to enjoy the life you save. You DON’T deserve to have extra worry about whether or not you can keep your job, once you recover.
Just like my mother, thousands of women and men are having this choice taken from them.
“By 2020, more than 21 million people worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer each year. About 70 percent of cancer patients now survive for five or more years after diagnosis, however, it is unknown how this experience affects the long-term mental health of survivors and their loved ones, the study authors pointed out.” The Lancet Oncology, news release, June 4, 2013
With such rates, can we allow employers to get away with harassment, even termination, of our cancer survivors and returning patients?
Tell New York University Medical Center what they did was WRONG!
Dr. Robert I. Grossman,
CEO of NYU Langone Medical Center
550 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Dear Dr. Grossman,
You need to know that a woman who worked for your institute for 38 years was fired because of her breast cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, this woman passed away six months later. You need to know she experienced a brilliant year of remission, and yet after job termination, lost her life within six months.
Numerous studies have proven the link between emotional and mental well-being, and after 38 years of employment for NYUMC, Fleurette Rafic was connected to her job. She worked after recovery, worked to be a productive employee as she had been her entire adult life. Yet, her choice to work was taken from her.
Studies show displaced workers suffer higher mortality rates. You need to know that NYUMC’s termination contributed to this woman’s death from the disease your institute wants to halt.
Please acknowledge this wrong against an employee of 38 years and apologize in public for what NYUMC did because it was beyond conscionable.