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Communicating with your workplace

Cancer survivors report and research show that good relationships in the workplace are very important in helping with return to work. This can include support from co-workers, managers/supervisors, and other staff. You can maintain this support, which you will need for your return to work, by staying in contact with your manager/supervisor and co-workers.

Here are some ideas on staying connected:

  • Attend holiday parties or summer barbecues.
  • Go for lunch or coffee with co-workers.
  • Keep your manager up to date.
  • Say that you are looking forward to and planning on coming back to work.

You may want to reflect on these questions:

  • How do I want to stay connected with my workplace?
  • How will I stay connected with my co-workers?
  • How will I stay connected with my supervisor/manager?

Deciding who gets to know about your cancer

Deciding whether to tell people at work that you had cancer is an individual decision. From the start, know that you do not have to disclose. For example, when you return to work after treatment, you may choose to say only that you had a health issue to attend to. However, disclosing or not can have its pros and cons. To learn more on disclosure, read our article Who Gets to Know: How to Exercise your Power of “Disclosure”.

In discussions with your colleagues about your diagnosis or when you are back to work, you may find that they may ask personal questions that you may not want to answer.  Even the question “how are you” can be a loaded question after a diagnosis of cancer and you may not want to get into this because it is private or you are concerned that this might make you upset. In many cases, colleagues may be feeling awkward and may be wanting to connect with you to acknowledge that they care but are not asking questions that feel comfortable to you. One option is to say” thank you for asking” (acknowledging that they may be trying to support you) then saying “do you mind if we do not talk about this. I would rather put this behind me”.  This is a polite way to say you do not want or will not give them an answer, but at the same time, you are acknowledging their reaching out in trying to support you. You may find those who are inquiring are relieved that you have given them guidance on how to address your cancer with you. After all, we know the colleagues’ support is very helpful for those who return to work.  If they persist with unwanted questions, use the assertiveness technique “broken record “and say:  “I would rather not talk about this” and keep repeating this if they keep asking.  

If you are feeling like you are getting harassed by a colleague related to your cancer diagnosis, one option is to tell them that you find these questions or comments intrusive, unsupportive, unpleasant (or whatever wording works for you) and tell them to please stop asking (now jot down when, what you said and who was there).  If these questions or comments persist, report them to your manager/employer as they have a role to ensure a harassment-free work environment according to human rights legislation in Canada.  See:  What can I do if colleagues harass me because of my cancer or because I can’t perform at my pre-cancer level?   Under legal question Canada: https://www.cancerandwork.ca/survivors/legal-questions/