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Talking to Coworkers

23279079You’re not legally required to tell your employer or your coworkers about your head and neck cancer.1 Questions and answers about cancer in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/cancer.html. However, unless there is a reason not to, it’s a good idea to let your coworkers know. Keeping secrets is not easy or practical, and coworkers can be great sources of support if you decide to keep working during your treatment.

Supportive coworkers

Keep in mind that most people have been affected by cancer in some way, whether it’s a family member being diagnosed or a friend’s family member. Because of the personal nature of the disease, coworkers will often be sympathetic to your situation and try to help you manage your work during treatment. You can assist them with this by providing a detailed list of your job duties and work contacts.

Other ways to help your coworkers include staying in close contact with your supervisor about your work schedule and exploring the possibility of working from home or temporarily adopting a flexible schedule or part-time hours. Getting additional assistance with home tasks can help provide you more energy for work.

Be sure to thank supportive coworkers for their efforts and show your appreciation often. Keep them in the information loop about your treatments and progress. They will probably appreciate feeling informed and included.

Less supportive coworkers

Though coworkers are usually supportive of colleagues with cancer, this is not always the case. Your coworkers may doubt that you will be able to carry your fair share of the work during your treatment.2 Social and work relationships. Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/life-after-treatment/page7#f2. Some may also begin to resent covering your responsibilities on top of their own if it goes on for longer than they expected or if they were never enthusiastic about helping you in the first place. You will never have 100 percent positive support from all the people in your life. It is okay to let go of some casual relationships in the course of your cancer journey.

Regardless of whether or not your coworkers are supportive, you may worry that your cancer will hurt your future at your company. This is normal, but you may be relieved to know that you are protected by law from getting fired for being sick.1, Questions and answers about cancer in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/cancer.html.3 Disability discrimination. U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission – Laws, Regulation & Guidance. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm. Keep open communications with your boss or human resources department to set their expectations about your ability to work, let them know when you might return from leave and prevent too many surprises.


References

1 Questions and answers about cancer in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/cancer.html.

2 Social and work relationships. Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/life-after-treatment/page7#f2.

3 Disability discrimination. U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission – Laws, Regulation & Guidance. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm.