What to Do When a Coworker is Diagnosed with Cancer

Dec 21, 2016

A diagnosis of cancer changes everything.

If you are in the workforce, you likely know someone at your workplace who has been or will be diagnosed with cancer. You may want to extend your support, but are not sure the most appropriate way to tell your colleague that you care about them and are there to help them during their illness.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you if you are unsure:

  • Checking in on how your coworker is doing may be all that is needed. Use simple statements like, "I am here for you if you need to talk," "I am sorry," or "How was the treatment?” Allow time to listen if they choose to elaborate.
  • If you offer assistance, be specific and follow through. "May I help you with a project at work?," "Would you like me to bring you lunch on Wednesday?" or "Can I help with a household task?" are good, non-intrusive ways of extending your help.
  • Avoid blanket statement such as, "You are going to be fine," or "I know how you feel." Sharing a story of what happened to someone else may not be helpful. Their story may not turn out the same way.
  • Avoid speculating on why they have cancer or why they should or should not work.
  • Most importantly, make sure to maintain your coworker’s privacy. They may have shared their story with you, but that does not mean they want everyone to know.

If you would like to drop in for a visit while your coworker is out of the office, stick to these guidelines:

  • Don't make a surprise house call.
  • Ask before you decide to take a meal.
  • Limit phone time if you call to check on your coworker.

Don’t be so afraid to do the wrong thing that you do nothing.

And, remember, cards do make a difference. This is Sheila Harrell with Church Health.




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