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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”
Mastectomy. Mastectomy? My mother? My mother.
Maybe your mother.
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.
While friends and family tell me this point is moot, I remember my mother’s voice when she insisted that I not let it go. It was a voice that knew very well her end was near, which made it so critical that she tell me not to let it go.
Despite that, I’m discouraged by everyone around me- not to pursue, not to bother with any efforts. I wonder if I should let the story go mute because it is, in fact, moot. I don’t know if it is. But I have to keep a promise. It’s the least, the absolute least I can do.
What do I do, anyway? I am not really sure most of the time. I just want to tell the world what they did and hope for a mass, collective gasp of shocked outrage that overwhelms that company with debilitating shame. They debilitated a cancer patient. Tit for tat.
Though it’s not quite the same. They live, she does not get to live to fight them. But I stand in her stead for that.
Join me because I know my mother wasn’t alone. She was not the only woman to be harassed and fired for having cancer, for surviving and battling cancer.
Add your name to the list with the story and I will post it on the Wall as a Place of Disgrace- a company that finds it acceptable to fire and harass cancer survivors.
After the hassle of the hustle across town, jostled and jolted by the elbows on the L, you finally get to relax in a comfortably padded leather chair, feet up. Aahh, there is that familiar feel of the chemicals pouring into your port. And soon you’ll be retching and weakened. No appetite, hair and nails soft and falling out. But you struggle on, with the picture in mind of getting life back to normal. One day.
And one day came like that for my mother. But like so many others, I fear, she was harrassed by coworkers and managers both when she returned to work during a remission period.
Sarcastic questions that made her feel lower than she already did. “Is that hair real?” “How did you lose all that weight?” from people who knew very well the answers already. But she wanted to work, wanted to work through all the pain and the bullying. She had worked at the same place for 38 years. It was her life and she was looking forward to her day of retirement, at her time of choosing.
But the choice was taken from her. Finally, my mother was fired from her job. Why? Because she was out of work on doctor’s orders recovering from a breast cancer related surgery.
The ironic twist is that my mother worked those 38 years for the very same hospital who provided her medical care.
Shame on this big NYC hospital for not taking care of their own patient and employee. Shame on them for not protecting one of our survivors.
I am starting a Shame List, a Pissed List of Pink Outrage against the companies like this one. They tread upon all the hard work a survivor puts into the fight. Cancer is a fight, a battle- I know my mother felt it and I’ve read it everywhere- to end only with another foe launching a surprise attack is beyond shame, beyond outrage.
My goal is to inform and expose. And I know there are others out there who want to do the same. Add your story. Add your loved one’s story. Add the name of the company to the list as a Place of Disgrace.