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How to discuss a cancer diagnosis with your employer

It’s not uncommon for people to experience a range of emotions upon being diagnosed with cancer. Fear, sadness and even confusion are just a few of the feelings people may experience after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
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Eventually, those emotions tend to settle down, even if the questions about living with cancer are just beginning.

Once the initial whirlwind calms, adults recently diagnosed with cancer may wonder how to go about their daily lives. That includes what to do about work. Sharing a cancer diagnosis with anyone can be difficult, and some people may be nervous about revealing a diagnosis to their employer. Fears about how employers will react, and the ramifications treatment could have on their careers may concern cancer patients. In recognition of that difficulty, cancer treatment centres may offer suggestions about sharing a cancer diagnosis with an employer.

Be direct with your boss.

It’s recommended cancer patients find a private setting to share their diagnosis directly with bosses. Bosses should not have to hear the news through a secondhand source like social media or a coworker. Speaking to your boss directly can open lines of communication regarding expectations and how to confront the challenges that could arise down the road.

Work with your human resources department.

Human resources professionals can help cancer patients learn about programs the company may offer and the resources at their disposal as they navigate this sudden change in their lives. HR professionals can also offer insight into how the company has dealt with cancer diagnoses in the past, including information on flexible working arrangements, such as reduced hours or remote working options.

Discuss how to share the news.

Once your boss and HR department has been notified, seek their input regarding how to break the news to your colleagues. If you routinely work with people across multiple departments, it may be best to inform everyone through email, as it can be exhausting to break the news to each colleague individually. But it’s also alright if you prefer to keep the diagnosis under wraps. In the latter case, it might still be wise to inform those you work with closely each day, as that can help them prepare for increased responsibilities as your treatment progresses and potentially makes it hard for you to continue working full-time. When discussing how to share the news with an HR department, be specific about how much you want to share, as you may only feel comfortable discussing details of your diagnosis with certain coworkers, such as your boss.

Be willing to accept help.

It’s easy for cancer patients to feel like they’re suddenly seen as charity cases upon sharing their diagnosis with an employer and their colleagues. But offers to help come from a good place, and patients would likely offer to help if the shoe was on the other foot and a colleague revealed a cancer diagnosis. It’s alright to tell people willing to help that you’ll let them know if you need anything if and when a difficult situation arises. In the meantime, thank them for their kindness and prepare to lighten your professional load as treatment begins.

Sharing a cancer diagnosis with an employer and professional colleagues can be challenging. But working directly with a boss and HR professional can ensure the process goes smoothly.

This story was written for the Think Pink advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.