Telling Your Coworkers You Have Cancer Doesn't Have to Be Difficult

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Cancer isn't easy but telling your coworkers can be.

How To Tell Your Coworkers You Have Cancer

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, you have a lot on your plate. Recently, someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer. I thought about how to tell other people. I wasn't going through the physical and emotional hardships but as their support system, I thought about how hard telling other people about the diagnosis would be.

But most of the time, it wasn't hard. I'd brace myself for the apologies and sympathy but life went on, except this time with more support and love. And sometimes I'd get a mediocre reaction, which I actually welcomed. Sometimes I'd mention the cancer in passing, and no one would blink an eye, and honestly, it was kind of great. I didn't have to prepare myself for an emotional conversation, or worry that if someone pressed me with more questions that I'd unravel in public. Not that it would be the first time, but at least I wouldn't bawl my eyes out in that moment.

Of course, I wasn't the one going through it. Cancer affects a slew of people in different ways. If you're diagnosed with cancer you have many things to worry about, but telling your coworkers about your recent medical issue doesn't have to be one of them. To the best of my ability, I've rounded up some information that can hopefully assist you when you tell your coworkers you have cancer.

Have A Doctor-Approved Cancer Diagnosis

First and foremost, it's important to know your diagnosis. If nothing is conclusive yet, it's better to wait for a formal, and official, diagnosis. You don't want to confuse anyone with misinformation. Talk to your doctor or oncologist if you have any questions, or are unsure of the prognosis.

Tell Your Boss First

Even if you have a work bff, it's best to go to your direct supervisor with such important news. You don't want your personal information getting to your boss without your knowledge. Workplaces can be gossipy, so it's best if you are the one delivering your news. Once the higher-ups know, you can tell your friends, coworkers, or team. Don't be afraid to tell your boss you have cancer, there are legal ramifications in regards to workplace discrimination.

Know Your Rights Regarding Discrimination and Health Benefits

According to Cancer.net you are protected under various legislation.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) protects your right for fair treatment in the event that you are diagnosed with cancer. Currently, there are three main pieces of legislation you should be familiar with. They are:

  1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "Passed in 1990, the ADA protects employees from unfair treatment at work because of a current, perceived, or past disability. The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities. Examples for people with cancer include flexible time off for cancer treatments or physical accommodations like desks that adjust for wheelchair access."

  2. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). "The 1993 FMLA provides many people up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. People who take such leave still receive their benefits and cannot lose their jobs while they are out. FMLA applies to public agencies, public and private schools, and companies with more than 50 employees."

  3. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). "Created in 2008, GINA ensured that a person’s genetic information, like cancer-related genetic mutations, cannot be requested or used by insurers or employers to make changes to health coverage or to jobs and work duties. Because of GINA, your genetic counseling discussions and cancer-related gene tests remain private, even if you do not have cancer."

Plan How Much (Or as Little) to Share With Your Coworkers

Once you're ready to tell your coworkers, it's completely up to you how much information you divulge. If you want everyone to know small details or if you'd rather stay vague, that is up to you. Forbes recommends following a certain acronym, "KISS: Keep It Simple Sister" claiming that support groups might be a better outlet than sharing important details people who work with you everyday. You know how to navigate your workplace best.

Anticipate Change With Your Coworkers as Much as Possible

If you work closely with a team or lead semi-annual projects, you might need to rearrange your schedule to accommodate treatments. Of course, restructuring will be based on your current employer, so it's hard to plan ahead but it is possible. If your treatment is organized you can try to accommodate other members of your team. But between you and me, your health should be your number priority and your coworkers or subordinates will understand. WebMD gives sound advice, "tell your co-workers what kinds of day-to-day changes they might expect—like when you may be absent because of chemo treatments or surgeries, and so on." Your work stress doesn't need to seep over into your health stress.

Be Open to Support or Help

If your coworkers are nice human beings, they will be concerned and supportive. They might want to drive you to work, they might want to make you a casserole, whatever it may be, anticipate it. You don't have to take them up on it, but be open to any support they try to give. If you would prefer to designate one person to inform the others on prognosis or updates, so be it. Just know, nice people that work with you everyday will try to support you during this difficult time.