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Talking with colleagues when you get back to work

When you return to work, it can be helpful to acknowledge with your co-workers that you are glad to be back to work with them as their continued support can make a difference with your transition. They may be curious about why you were off if they are not aware that you have cancer (see who gets to know: how to exercise your power of “disclosure”).

If they know that you were diagnosed with cancer, they may react in many ways. Some may want to check in with you to see how you are doing and offer support. For some cancer survivors, discussing cancer may feel too personal or feel too emotional. If this is the case, some cancer survivors have found saying “Thanks for asking, I appreciate that you are showing that you care, but do you mind if we do not discuss this right now because I want to focus on moving forward?” Saying “right now” gives you the flexibility to discuss this in the future should you want to. Some colleagues may not inquire about how you have been because they are concerned that they are being too intrusive or are feeling awkward about the conversation.

For many, knowing someone who has had cancer may be a new experience and they may simply not know how to act or what to say. In these instances, whether you want to mention that you have cancer is up to you. It is important that you do not assume that they do not care if they do not bring up the topic or ask in an awkward way. In many cases, they may not know what to say or are afraid they will say something that is not helpful and may choose to avoid the topic.

When you return to work, especially if your colleagues have been allocated part of your work while you were away, they may want you to resume all of your work even if you are undergoing a graduated return to work. Perhaps it was your employer’s decision to re-allocate your tasks without obtaining a temporary replacement, so you are not to blame for their increased workload. Sadly, in some cases, increased workload may cause some resentment toward you. Recognizing the increased burden to them and showing that you appreciate all of their efforts can be helpful. You could also remind them that your recovery may take time, but that when you are fully recovered, you hope you will be there to support them if something ever happens to them. For a graduated return to work, if you feel pressured, it is important to remind them that this is prescribed by your doctor and out of your hands. If this continues, it is important to discuss this with your supervisor.

Other helpful resources

Talking with Your Boss and Coworkers (National Cancer Institute, USA)