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Supporting a Co-worker Experiencing Cancer

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​If you or a co-worker is experiencing cancer, you are not alone.

Research tells us that 80 percent of people with cancer return to work after diagnosis. 

But it can seem overwhelming to juggle treatment schedules amidst family and professional responsibilities.

Many individuals who are able to remain on the job during or shortly after treatment find that it helps them maintain their identity.

A job can be a reminder that you are a valued employee, a great boss or a trusted co-worker. 

Cancer can be extremely isolating, and being around people and one’s “normal routine” can be a great comfort.

Even though the public’s understanding of cancer is generally improving, some prejudices and wariness remain in the workplace. 

When an employee or colleague announces that they have a life threatening diagnosis, we often don't know how to respond.

Some tips that can help:

  • Treat your employee or colleague the same way you've always treated them. They are still the same person. Now, they're just dealing with cancer.
  • ​Say something. Express sadness or concern, or even that you don't know what to say in these circumstances, but let them know you are thinking of them. Cards are often appreciated.
  • Remember that expressions of extreme concern aren't necessarily helpful. Often, people with cancer end up having to comfort and reassure everyone else and do not get the support they need.
  • Avoid discussing a friend or relative who died, or had a horrible cancer treatment experience. Likewise, avoid saying that it will be OK if they just stay positive. It's not necessarily true, and it may add pressure rather than reassurance.
  • Don't just ask what you can do to help. Instead, offer to do something specific for them. Offers that generally meet with appreciation are to bring food, help with childcare or errands, rides to appointments, help with housework, or sending out an informational e-mail so that they don’t have to describe what is going on over and over again.

Many people undergoing cancer treatment may need some adjustments in schedules. 

Exploring work options such as occasional telecommuting may be helpful. 

Workplace flexibility and support are compassionate gifts that can decrease stress significantly.

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 Content Editor