Be the Boss Over Cancer

Ask a Career Coach

Not sure what to tell people? Need help figuring out the answer because of unique circumstances?

Visit Ask a Career Coach

In addition to determining who to tell, give some serious thought to what, and how much, they need to know.

The Facts

If you want to keep the information you share to a minimum, consider disclosing the following:

  • Your exact diagnosis
  • An explanation, in layman's terms, of what your diagnosis means
  • Prognosis
  • Expected course of treatment
  • Expected leave of absences or sick days, if any
  • The names of your physicians and specialists

Prepare ahead of time, to review the information. Don't be alarmed if your employer requests documentation of your diagnosis (in fact, it's wise to provide your boss with written details about your condition beforehand). It's not a matter of mistrust — it's a matter of paperwork and protection on the employer's end. Plus, if they ask, you're legally required to do so, and if you're planning to return to the company, cooperation will be remembered.

Your Game Plan

Jill Scalamandre, General Manager at Prada, recommends strongly that newly diagnosed employees not only come forth with the facts about their cancer, but also come prepared with a plan for handling work: "First, tell the supervisor and come up with a game plan, and then go to fellow co-workers. By having a game plan, the employee maintains a certain feeling of control over the situation." Presenting a plan at the same time as you deliver your news reminds colleagues and supervisors alike of your commitment to your job and your company. Not only are you reinforcing your position as a proactive and solutions-oriented member of the team, but you are also saying, underneath it all: Don't worry. I will be back. I will survive this and my job won't suffer. Scalamandre offers the following tips for developing your plan:

  • Be up front and honest about your diagnosis and what you expect to happen.
  • Develop a buddy system where each critical project or responsibility is shared by a fellow employee so that if you're out ill, someone is there to follow up.
  • Try to share your tasks with a few different employees so that you are surrounded by a "support group" and no single employee is overburdened.

Your Feelings

If your co-workers and supervisors are friends, you may want to share with them what's happening and how you feel about it. Once people know how you feel, they may have a better sense of how they should feel. Consider sharing the following:

  • Your current mindset
  • Your fears
  • Your hopes
  • Your vulnerabilities