Be the Boss Over Cancer

Last night, I was fortunate enough to receive a ticket to see a sneak preview of 50/50, courtesy of (thanks guys!).  This new Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen movie is about a 27 year old guy who is diagnosed with a rare cancer, and depicts many of the troubles that come with a diagnosis as a young adult (dealing with your parents, significant other problems, confronting your mortality at a young age, and more).  

The one piece of the movie that I was eager to see was how he dealt with his diagnosis at work (what can I say? I always have the work part on my mind).  Gordon-Levitt plays a radio producer, and when he receives his diagnosis decides to take time off of work before beginning treatment.  On his last day of work, his colleagues hold a sort of 'going away/good luck' party.  And then the film begins to tick off one by one all of the 'sympathetic' remarks colleagues who mean well say in order to try to help: "My uncle had cancer, and he's doing just fine" or "Don't worry about any of it, you'll be just fine". There is even one painfully awkward moment where a colleague doesn't know what to say and so just stares at him blankly for what feels like forever.

So why do I bring any of this up do you ask?  Because as a colleague of someone with cancer there are some good things to do (and some not so good, as shown in the movie).  For example don't say 'Everything will be okay.' You can't guarantee that. And don't say 'I know what you're going through' unless you really do. If you haven't had cancer yourself, it would be better to say 'I know you're having a difficult time.'  More practical tips like this can be found in our article on What A Friend Can Do:, and we also have information on What Not To Say:

One other key thing that can help someone taking time off of work for treatment is establishing a point person. This way, everyone at work can send their good wishes and update requests through one person, and so you are not saddled with managing an insurmountable amount of emails.  More info on how to be a good person can be found here:

More often than not, colleagues are well intentioned but don't know how to handle the situation.  So if the need arises, point them to our co-worker resources:

Have you seen 50/50 yet?  What were your thoughts?

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  • Cherylinn N.

    Cherylinn N. on Sep 27, 2011

    Thank you for this artlcle, I recently was on medical leave for thyroid cancer and although I work where I was treated, it was still awkward when discussing my situation with co-workers.

    A funny but short story, I had one major complication while in the hospital and I was having heart problems and I could hear the doctor yelling and they were putting monitors on me and then the person from pathology came to draw blood and I knew him and here my breast were exposed and I was yelling for him not to enter, I couldn't have someone I work with seeing my breast so we both agreed that 1) I didn't want him to see my boobs and 2) he didn't want to see my boobs and I was actually ok so he was able to wait but I found that working and being a patient can have some interesting stories afterwards.

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