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Telling people at work

Telling people at work about a cancer diagnosis is a very personal decision. Although you may want to keep it private, it might be difficult if you are gone for long periods of time or your appearance changes.

Who to tell at work

You may want to talk with your manager or human resources department before you or someone else tells others at work. They don’t need to know specific details about your cancer, only how it will affect your ability to do your job. Employers are often supportive when they know about a diagnosis and can help make adjustments for you at work. This is especially true if you need to take time off or if cancer or its treatment will affect the way you do your job.

You may have already talked about some of your concerns with co-workers you are close to. Others may need to be told if it could affect their workload and responsibilities.

If you’re a manager or own a company, you will probably need to tell most of your employees about your diagnosis, especially if it’s going to affect day-to-day work routines.

Don’t be afraid to ask for support or help. You may be able to get advice or counselling from an employee assistance program (EAP). Your human resources department or your manager may be able to suggest other programs or benefits that are available to you.

When to tell people at work

It can be very hard to choose the right time to tell employers and co-workers. When you tell them may depend on how soon you will start treatment.

  • If you have treatment scheduled right away, you may need to tell your manager so that plans can be made quickly to cover for you.
  • You may be able to wait to tell people at work until after treatment is planned. Then you can talk about when and for how long you will be away from work.

What to tell people at work

Some co-workers may know very little about cancer. They may think that it’s contagious or that it means that you are going to die soon. There may be concerns about your ability to work and the quality of your work.

Try to be ready for different reactions. You may want to tell people:

  • about the diagnosis and what treatment you will have
  • how long you may be off work
  • that your mood and energy may be affected
  • how your looks may change (weight loss, hair loss or skin changes) during treatment

If you don’t want to talk to co-workers about cancer, let others know that you want to focus on job tasks rather than on cancer. You may also want to ask your manager or a trusted co-worker to be the one who shares information with the other staff. It can be helpful to let your manager help explain how your work will be handled during your illness.


Dr Josie Ursini-Siegel The tug of war between breast cancer and the immune system

Taking action against all cancers

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