Georgina Garcia’s story of losing her job during the pandemic is not an unusual one. But add ovarian cancer treatment into the mix, and what she describes as a “rough few months” becomes an understatement.
When the mother of seven learned she had stage 3 ovarian cancer in the summer of 2019, it took her doctors a while to determine the best treatment plan for her. She’d undergone several minor procedures that weren’t effective, and wondering what the next step would be was another burden for her to endure. In the meantime, her demanding job as the lead assistant in a busy dental practice was taking its toll on her. Her employers told her it was either “her health or her job.”
“They told me they couldn’t keep me on because it was hurting them financially,” she said. Garcia had no choice but to leave the practice.
While on this rollercoaster of undergoing treatments yet not having a clear treatment path, she began to job hunt. Against all odds she found who she describes as “the best, kindest doctor I have ever met.” When they hit it off and he offered her a position, she had to “come clean” and tell him about her health issues, and that she really didn’t know how much longer she was going to have to undergo treatment.
To her surprise, he said, “Don’t worry. I’m here to help you and your family. We will work together and go from there.”
What followed a short time later was COVID-19 and dental offices being told to shut down. Garcia’s new boss gave the team the choice of closing down as most of the other dental offices did, or remaining open and limiting the number of patients they saw while monitoring everyone closely for signs of COVID. They chose to stay open.
“It was hard during the pandemic because patients and staff alike were scared to come in, and it was hard on my boss trying to make sure everyone was still making their paycheck,” Garcia said. “But he took it upon himself to still manage to pay us even though we were not making the same production during those months.”
This is also when Garcia’s oncologist told her that hospitals were beginning to limit the number of surgeries and cancer treatments due to the pandemic. She had been scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy and could get her surgery right away or wait until the pandemic passed. The doctors strongly recommended that she proceed immediately. Two days later she was in the operating room.
“It happened so quickly I didn’t really have time to even think about what I was going through or what was going to happen to me,” she said. “Family members were not allowed at the hospital, so I was all alone. I was a nervous wreck, but the doctors and nurses were able to keep me somewhat calm. But when I woke up from the surgery, I was in so much pain I started to cough, and they were terrified that I might have COVID. They rushed me to an isolation room for COVID patients and tested me.”
The wait for the results was a very long 24 hours, with few people checking on her because everyone was still so new and unused to being around COVID patients. When her test finally came back negative, she was relieved to be moved out of isolation and resume regular care and medications.
“Of course, I wanted to get home quickly because I knew my family could take better care of me, so it was a relief to be released,” she said.
One week later, she was back at work. “I was still having some pain, and my boss was nice enough to let me work at the front desk where I could sit down,” Garcia said. “I had only been with the office for six months by this time, but he had continued my regular paychecks even when I wasn’t there.”
Two weeks after surgery she started radiation treatment every morning before going into work. Every 21 days she had chemotherapy that lasted for four days. The dentist worked around her schedule and welcomed her whenever she felt like coming into work.
“He was always making sure I was OK, and anything that I or my family needed, he was there to help,” she said.
After three months of Garcia’s treatment, the dentist surprised the team by giving them one week of paid vacation. It was a gift to thank them for their hard work during the pandemic, as well as a celebration of Garcia’s cancer treatment success and the team’s support of her.
“As I recovered and felt better, I transitioned into the position of office manager,” she said. “I started doing marketing for the practice and sending out friendly reminders to patients to come see us. Our schedule started to fill up and we needed to hire more staff.”
One day Garcia came into the office and was surprised with a card that said how proud the dentist was to have her as part of the team. The card contained a check for $3,800, and instructions to take a nice vacation.
“It’s hard to find employers who care deeply not just about their business but about the well-being of their team members,” Garcia said. “I’m very blessed to have found this dentist and I am proud to say I’ve found my dental home. It’s been rough, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Everyone has been so supportive. I guess the moral of my story is there are great people out there who are willing to help others. I’m blessed to have found some of those people.”
Meg Kaiser is an associate editor in Endeavor Business Media’s Dental Division. She edits for DentistryIQ.com, the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter, Principles of Practice Management newsletter, Dental Office Manager newsletter, Dental Economics magazine, and RDH magazine.