Family comes first

I’d been working at Vanguard for about eight years when my mother, and best friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 Urothelial Cell Carcinoma. As you can imagine, this turned my family’s world upside down as my mom is the heart & soul of my family unit.

My mom, who had cared for me, my brother and my dad, all (or most of) our lives was now the one who needed care. This was a role no one in my family, except my mom, had really ever done. I knew I would play a key part in my mother’s appointments as my family wasn’t sure what questions to ask or notes to take. Needless to say, having served in auditor-type roles most of my Vanguard career, I was well prepared for the challenge.

During the first quarter of 2017, while my personal life was turned on its head, a new leader was assigned to my team. I was experiencing changes both at Vanguard and in my personal life. My first one-on-one was conducted through video conference from my parent’s house. It was during that conversation I finally said the words out loud…my mom had cancer. Not knowing how my new leader would respond, I waited.

He took a moment and said, “Family comes first,” a concept I heard Vanguard was known for but never experienced firsthand. To my relief, my manager and I worked out a flexible schedule so I could attend all of my mom’s chemotherapy treatments.

Kristin and her mom dressed in panda costumes

My mom’s 68th birthday in our matching red panda onesies

My first leave occurred in July 2017, for mom’s surgery to remove the cancer cells. Knowing I could assist in her care, this was my first experience with Vanguard’s Family and Medical Leave Program (FMLA). I took the steps necessary to ensure that everything would go smoothly, and it did.

I was nursing my mom back to health, with my dad and brother and other extended family by my side. Every morning, I went straight into mom’s bed where we spent hours talking, laughing and praying. During that leave, I wore many hats, some included: Doctor, nurse, caretaker, therapist, chef, butler, and chauffeur. Before I knew it, the two months had passed & I was back to work.

When I returned from leave, I was notified that my team was undergoing changes. I had a new team and leader. Like the leader before, she was caring and understanding. She went out of her way to help support me, and therefore, my family.

Having been home for the holidays, I asked mom if she needed me to stay. She was hesitant; worried that her diagnosis that was now Stage 4 was affecting my work. Always a mother. But she did ask me to stay. I went back through the seamless FMLA process and was back at home, supporting my family by the first week of 2018.

The first day of that leave we found out that the cancer metastasized in mom’s liver. She was given six months to live… A time frame no spouse, son, daughter, mother, sibling, or friend is ready to hear or accept. However, a few weeks after that appointment, mom was on an upswing responding positively to her new treatment. My mom, our family, was going to win this fight.

Woman holding a certificate, A purple heart award

Mom graduating from chemo for the first time on my Vanguard work anniversary

I returned to work in early February of 2018 in hopes of making a career move. I wanted to challenge myself now more than ever considering the flexibility Vanguard had given me. Then, my perfect job appeared. I was hesitant to apply, worried that a new department and leader wouldn’t be willing to work with me through this trying time. With that in mind, I went for it and luckily I did, because I began an exciting new journey at Vanguard.

Having the same insecurities I’ve had before, I explained my home situation. My new leader exceeded my expectations even more so since I had only just gotten the job. She didn’t know me, but she didn’t need to. She knew what I needed.

Shortly after starting my new job in June 2018, my mom stopped responding to treatment and my family was overwhelmed. I needed to be home as taking care of mom had become a full time job that did not include sleep. For a third time, I submitted for FMLA. Another straightforward and successful process.

I was on leave from the end of July 2018 until Labor Day. I did my best to remain optimistic. Mom surpassed the six month expectation her doctor gave her in January. Every moment with her beyond six months was a blessing but I wasn’t naive; things looked bleak.

We had mom’s palliative care appointment the Friday I returned to work. The night I arrived home, I knew things were bad. During that appointment, mom was admitted to inpatient hospice care though she had been using their home services for months. I was told she may not make it the 15 minute ambulance ride. My world was falling apart.

Picture of Kristin and her mom and brother

My brother, mom & I visiting the casino with dad

Saturday morning, September 8, at 12:08 AM EST, after a year and a half of fighting, my mom passed away, unable to beat the courageous battle all cancer survivors and victims have to go through. More than anything, I wish this blog was ending differently, not only for you, but for me…for my family.

From that experience, here’s what I can tell you: If I wasn’t working at Vanguard, I don’t know how different this story would have been. I don’t know if I would have been at every chemotherapy appointment. I don’t know if I would have been at every doctor’s appointment. I don’t know if I would have been as available to my family. I don’t know if I would have been able to be home.

However, I was working at Vanguard. I was able to be there when my family needed me the most. I was able to go to every doctor’s appointment. I was able to be available for my family. I was able to be home. I was able to take multiple leaves of absence through FMLA. I was able to use personal leave to handle my mother’s affairs. I was able, and that – that is a blessing.

Picture of a gorup holding a sign to support Kristin's mom at a Memorial walk event

Hospice of the Sacred Heart Memorial walk

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