How do you tell your boss and co-workers that you have cancer?
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be a confusing and overwhelming time, not only for you, but for your friends and family as well. If you work, you may be wondering how and when to share your diagnosis with your boss and co-workers. Taking the time to prepare and plan what you will say, how much you will share, and how you will present the news can help facilitate difficult advertising.
Sharing a cancer diagnosis is not easy. It’s normal to feel nervous, especially if you don’t know how your supervisors or co-workers will react. Prepare for a wide range of reactions and emotions. By sharing your news, you may get the support and understanding you need to get cancer treatment.
Tips for sharing your diagnosis
The following tips can help you better prepare to share your diagnosis:
Tell your boss directly: It is important that your boss hears the news from you and not through karma. Find a comfortable and private place to write the news. By opening the lines of communication with your supervisor, you can strengthen your relationship and set clear expectations. The Americans with Disabilities Act includes certain provisions designed to protect you if you report your medical condition to your employer.
Talk to your HR department: Once your manager knows your diagnosis, he or she will need to report the information to your HR department. You may wish to speak directly to your Human Resources representative to obtain more information about the company’s policies and your employment rights. You may also want to discuss the treatment program and options for flexible working arrangements.
Start with a trusted coworker: Work cultures vary by workplace. By speaking with a trusted coworker first, you may be able to better evaluate and plan how to share the news with someone who knows the culture and the people involved firsthand.
Plan how to share: Decide in advance how many people you want to share the news with and how you want to communicate it. If you want to give the same information to everyone at the same time, email may be an option. If you expect to be excited while discussing your diagnosis, it may be easier to ask a trusted coworker to spread the word. You can also consider creating a list of people with whom you will privately share the news.
Plan how much to share: It’s important to decide in advance how much you want to share with your co-workers about your diagnosis. Some may ask you about the type of cancer you have, its stage, and the treatments you’re receiving. Sometimes people openly ask questions, give advice, or even share their personal stories. Be prepared for a wide range of responses and decide in advance how you will respond if you are asked questions that you do not want to answer.
Accept Help: Many people will react by asking, “What can I do to help?” You may not yet know how to respond to this, or what help you will need. When you’re ready, tell others how they can help and be as specific as possible.
Make a plan
Once you share the diagnosis, talk with your HR representative about any adjustments and amenities you may need. Elaine Smith, MD, a mind-body therapist at Atlanta Area Hospital, suggests creating a plan that includes concrete steps that can help you remain a valued employee. “By working closely with the human resources department, you can adjust, adjust, and be realistic about your job responsibilities,” she says.