Everyone handles a cancer diagnosis, and work, differently, depending on their personality and situation. Whether you are the patient, supervisor, or co-worker, it is important to recognize that every person’s situation is different and to be mindful of a few things.

Communication is key. Some employees are able to work normal schedules, others may need more flexibility or time off. Don’t assume that your employee is doing well just because they’re at work. Encourage your employee to coordinate with your human resources department and to take the time they need to deal with their illness.

Cancer isn’t necessarily a career ender. Most people lead valuable, productive lives after being treated with cancer. Don’t assume your employee will be retiring due to cancer. In fact, you may find your employee has become more focused as a result of their diagnosis.

If you have an employee or co-worker diagnosed with cancer, you can help them by:

  • Actively listening.
  • Understanding emotions will fluctuate with time and treatment.
  • Building a plan and a support system to help alleviate additional stress.
  • Expecting the unexpected—sick days and temporary leave may be requested.
  • Offering to help in specific ways such as bringing meals or donating sick or vacation days.
  • Helping your employee take an honest look and what they can and can’t do and being engaged so they don’t take on an overload.
  • Taking your cues from the patient and respecting their privacy.
  • Respecting their decisions about how their cancer will be treated.
  • Understanding that appearances may change, such as hair or weight loss.
  • Realizing emotions may be unintentionally placed on you and not taking it personally.
  • Keeping your relationship as normal and balanced as possible.

You may also be impacted personally by having a co-worker who is fighting cancer. It’s both normal and okay to feel sad or worried. Find someone you can talk to or do your own research. We provide cancer fact sheets online. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute offer online news, statistics, and research as well.

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