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I had to resign my position of 17 years to help take care of my sister

I had to resign my position of 17 years to help take care of my sister

January 16, 2015

Dear President Obama,

Our lives changed forever when my sister, Joanne, was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal, late stage gynecologic cancer. We were devastated by the news and needed to make plans for Joanne’s care as her health deteriorated quickly. In a very short period of time, Joanne needed around the clock care and we were forced to make tough decisions. Joanne was not married, nor did she have any children. Our father is deceased and our mother is elderly with medical conditions of her own. Taking care of Joanne and getting her safely to all her chemotherapy treatments and doctor visits became difficult. We all have our jobs and our responsibilities, but this was one that I could not walk away from – – – this was family.

Terminal illness does not leave much time for research nor does it wait for any resolution to occur. I applied for Family Medical Leave at my place of employment; however, I was denied since Joanne was a ‘sibling’ who is not covered as an eligible individual under the current law. Disappointed, but not giving up, I appealed that decision, citing ‘in loco parentis’ because of our family situation, however, it was denied once again. Having no other option, I made the difficult decision to voluntarily resign my position of 17 years to help take care of my sister until she passed away. I do not regret this decision to resign and would certainly make the same decision all over again. For some people, though, the loss of employment would be devastating. While I am not a nurse by trade, I accepted my new position as caregiver and was trained by critical care nurses in our home. Hospice was not an option for us due to Joanne’s medical situation, so our family took care of her until she passed away on February 13, 2009.

Since we lost Joanne, I’ve worked to celebrate her life by ensuring no other family has to sacrifice their jobs in a similar situation. Joanne’s Law, which has been introduced in Pennsylvania’s legislature several times, would extend the FMLA to cover siblings. But I am writing today to ask you to go even further – to make sure that not only would the FMLA cover more family members, but that it also be paid.

I often think ‘who would have taken care of Joanne’ if I did not sacrifice my livelihood and my job? Would she have to put in a home or in the care of the state? Today’s economy is not one in which anyone can afford to choose between taking care of a family member or keeping their job. I continue each day to gain support from both our elected officials and from various family caregiving organizations. I know what’s involved, from an insider’s perspective, the challenges that families face and decisions that were made on behalf of my sister and my family. I am only one person but I know I can make a difference for another Pennsylvania family facing similar challenges and, in doing so, honor Joanne’s memory by getting “Joanne’s Law” passed.

Thank you for speaking out about these issues in the State of the Union address.

Anne Marie Pearson
West Chester, PA

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