What has TikTok taught us about supporting employees with cancer?

2024 concludes a three-year campaign to close the cancer care gap, challenging leadership to eliminate health inequities and promote the power of working together to spread awareness.

Related topics:  World Cancer Day,  Employee Benefits
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
5th February 2024
TikTok Awareness
"Advisers could benefit from using real-life case stories to demonstrate scenarios their clients may want to insure against and the difference that could make to them."
- Jo Miller, Co-Chair of the Income Protection Taskforce (IPTF)

“I’m blown away by everyone’s love and how they’ve supported me and shared [my] story,” said terminal cancer patient, Cat Janice, after the song she’d dedicated to her son went viral.

Cat Janice, 31-year-old singer-songwriter, was diagnosed with sarcoma in 2022 after discovering a lump in her neck a few months prior. “I had just gotten over Covid-19 so my lymph nodes were really swollen […] I didn’t think anything of it,” Cat explained to her TikTok followers. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation before she was declared cancer-free on the 22nd July 2022. However, despite entering remission, Cat’s cancer returned less than a year later. When she was no longer able to breathe in the ICU, Cat was emitted to hospice as a terminal cancer patient on the 10th January 2024.

During this time, Cat decided to release one final track dedicated to her son as well as reportedly transferring royalties for all her songs to his name. “I wanted to put out something fun and positive […] My art is all I have to leave behind,” Cat told People Magazine.

Five days after she was emitted to hospice, Cat posted a TikTok calling for her fans to pre-save the song, ‘Dance You Outta My Head’, with all the proceeds going to “my seven-year-old son I’m leaving behind.” She hoped to live long enough to enjoy the song’s release date (19th January) but wished her followers “good night” in case that wasn’t meant to be.

On the 23rd January, Cat decided to scroll through Facebook after she’d been woken up by her med port beeping due to low battery. “I was sitting there in the middle of the night looking at my phone – what the heck is going on?” she exclaimed. In less than a week, ‘Dance You Outta My Head’ had reached number five on the iTunes US Chart after going viral on TikTok.

To date, the hit song has 313.2k TikTok videos (including re-shares from influencers such as Meredith Duxbury, Grandad Joe, and Julie & Camilla) which corresponds to roughly $950 in royalties. Cat said she’s been “floored” by the support from the TikTok community that’s allowed her to leave a legacy.

‘Dance You Outta My Head’ proves that working together to support those with cancer can be immensely powerful, with the potential to start invaluable conversations. Protection Reporter asked several thought leaders in the protection space what Cat Janice and the TikTok community can teach us about supporting employees with cancer.

“What strikes me the most is how focused Cat was on doing something to provide for her son […] employers who offer group risk benefits, including Life Assurance, Income Protection (IP) and Critical Illness (CI), are providing vital financial support for employees and their families as well as emotional and practical with the additional services made available,” said Katharine Moxham, Spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD).

“I don’t yet use TikTok myself, but it’s obviously been extremely effective.”

She highlighted the value Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), vocational rehabilitation, second medical opinions and specialised cancer pathways can bring to the workplace; “it must make such a difference to feel supported by your employer when the worst is happening.”

Yet, according to the latest research commissioned by GRiD, only 30% of employers offer support for serious illness to help people stay in or return to work. Of those surveyed (1,210), one in ten (12%) of employees said suffering a serious illness, such as cancer, was a major concern, rising to 19% amongst those aged 55 and above.

READ MORE: GRiD calls for employers to “step up” and enable staff with cancer to thrive in the workplace

“For me, a key lesson is storytelling and shared experience; creating a community where people can talk about what is happening to them,” said Dr Julie Denning, Managing Director at Working To Wellbeing & Chair of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association.

“Having cancer can be a very lonely experience […] TikTok creates a community for people to share their thoughts and feelings.”

“It also enables people to come together to support a cause they might otherwise not have thought about […] the financial implications of having cancer and the impact on those left behind is exemplified in Cat Janice,” she explained. Julie believes supporting employees with cancer isn’t spoken about enough, yet people in survivorship or recovery often want to work. “It can be a source of support, of legacy, sense of self, and as much normalcy as possible,” she said, “which can be a hard concept for some who may not understand this perspective.”

Recent research commissioned by Working To Wellbeing found that almost half (49%) of employees would stay with an employer if they were offered vocational rehabilitation support after a long-term illness, such as cancer.  This stance was shared by 78% of line managers who thought personalised and timely vocational rehabilitation improves work-related outcomes for employees with cancer.

READ MORE: Working To Wellbeing reveals 80% of line managers believe vocational rehabilitation support is important after long-term illness

Jo Miller, Co-Chair of the Income Protection Taskforce (IPTF), agreed that the extent of support offered to Cat Janice after sharing her story on TikTok proves that it’s an effective tool to reach an engaged audience. “Her call to action has received an overwhelming response which, as I write, has led to 2.7mn streams on Spotify […] That is a reach that any protection insurer would envy,” she said.

“It highlights the importance of [TikTok] as a method of reaching an audience unfamiliar with our products but prepared to face the reality of risks.”

Jo believes that Cat’s story highlights the need to secure a future and secure a legacy for those we leave behind. “There is a real need to encourage people to face their mortality and consider the different scenarios they could face, and employers could play a valuable role in terms of offering financial advice and guidance,” she explained.

“Cat Janice’s story is both moving and inspiring, demonstrating the power of TikTok for raising awareness and funds,” said Jacqueline Durbin, Global Head of Product (Life, Pensions & Mortgages) at Iress.

“I hope it helps people on TikTok to think about their own legacy and the importance of financially protecting their loved ones in the event of unexpected critical or terminal illness.”

Jacqueline highlighted that schools often don’t prioritise financial education, so young people don’t understand it’s not solely ‘older’ people who need to worry about financial products; “it’s critical for stories like this to receive the attention it deserves across all ages.” Likewise, Jacqueline would like to see continued focus from the protection space on personal stories that resonate with people, to raise awareness of the devastating impact cancer can have on employees and their families.

“It’s vital we improve awareness of cancer to help people spot the warning signs as quickly as possible and seek treatment,” warned Emma Thomson, Head of Protection Development at Sesame Bankhall Group (SBG).

“Cat Janice’s song going viral on TikTok shows the positive power social media can have in engaging an audience on important topics.”

Emma said employers can make a huge difference to staff with cancer, both those who’re diagnosed themselves and anyone supporting a loved one with cancer. “They should consider what can be offered and be understanding of the individual’s situation, working out how they can balance their diagnosis and treatment with employment,” she explained.

Additionally, employers should look to invest in wellbeing services to provide practical support as well as signpost to relevant charities; “having cancer is a devasting experience, but one that can be made better by having a supportive workplace that understands the difficulties faced and offers as much practical and emotional support as possible.”

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