As a security officer at Kaiser Richmond, every day I see the importance of family. I see parents bringing their newborns for well-baby visits. I see elderly women coming in to treat their diabetes, a son and daughter on either side. And I see loved ones coming together to support each other in the ER.
I see families at their best and worst times. Sometimes, until loved ones arrive, I am the only one available to console a family member. Someone might have gotten a call from a neighbor saying their grandmother was taken away in an ambulance; they rush in, having no idea what they might face. And they ask me for help. I do my best at these times to offer what comfort I can. To offer them the compassion they need. More than once I’ve had family members return to the hospital to thank me. It makes me feel good that I’ve been able to show them a little bit of caring. I know I would want the same.
That’s not the only reason Kaiser Richmond feels like family. In the 1940s, my grandfather left Louisiana for a better life, moving to Richmond to work in the Kaiser shipyards. He, and all my other grandparents, set down strong roots in the Bay Area. Everyone in my family – from my parents to my siblings to my cousins – has worked hard to create a stable life. We all own our own homes, we encourage our kids to get a good education, and when times are hard, we come together to help each other.
In 2010, I experienced the power of family more than ever before. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily I was diagnosed in stage 1, but I had to have seven months of radiation and take Tamoxifen.
It was my family who got me through. I had two kids at the time (now I also have my miracle baby girl, age 10 months!). I had to have radiation treatments every week, and they left me exhausted. I needed to rest, but I barely missed work. I couldn’t because as security officers we only have two sick days a year. I couldn’t afford to miss too much pay – my husband and I needed every cent for our mortgage and to help our kids have a better life.
So I scheduled my radiation treatments for Friday, and then had Saturday, Sunday and Monday to rest. My family – aunts, uncles, cousins, and most of all my husband – helped out with the kids and got me through. I managed, but if I had been able to take more time off, it wouldn’t have put such a strain on my family.
Being a cancer survivor helps me to understand what people are going through when they walk in the door at Kaiser. I get to know some patients because I see them coming back again and again. I know it helps them to see a familiar face. When you’re sick and scared, it can mean a lot just to have someone who knows you say hello. When you’re new, it can mean a lot to be escorted to the right floor so you can start getting the help you need.
I love my job. I truly feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I’d like to stay forever. But one of the things that make me worry I won’t be able to keep being a security officer at Kaiser is the lack of sick days. Having only two days a year just doesn’t work. I have three kids now, and when one of them gets sick, they all do.
I had my family to see me through the most challenging time in my life. But not all of my co-workers are so lucky, and it shouldn’t be so hard. That’s why together, we’re trying to negotiate a contract that would give us more sick days. Because while we all need family – in whatever shape or size it is – we also need good policies that keep good people on the job.