You’ve decided who to tell. You think you know what you will share Now comes what some of us consider the most difficult part — how do you tell people about your diagnosis?
Prepare for Misconceptions
Despite all the advancements and innovations in cancer treatment, there are still many misconceptions about what a cancer diagnosis means. Having an awareness of these myths before you start sharing can be helpful so you’ll know how to react. The most common misconceptions are:
- Cancer is a death sentence.
- Cancer means you’ll have to stop working.
- Cancer means you want to stop working.
- Cancer automatically makes you less productive, less competent and/or less reliable.
First, know that it’s perfectly understandable to be nervous. This isn’t easy information to share — with anyone. No matter how close you are with your supervisor or coworkers, there’s simply no way to know how they’ll react. However, it’s likely they will look to you for clues; so if you’re open about it, they’ll be less apt to shy away from the topic.
Its a good idea to also prepare yourself for a wide range of responses. It's likely your own initial reactions to your diagnosis were varied, and if you didn’t know how to react, chances are the people around you won’t know either. Try not to read into first responses, as many will need a little time to get used to the idea. Anticipating possible responses can help make it easier to face those moments.
Try thinking through potential reactions — both those you hope to avoid and those you’d like to receive. Some examples include fear, discomfort, confusion, pity, anger, avoidance, support, love, understanding and sympathy. This can help you to prepare to respond to those and not necessarily take them too personally.
Some reactions may surprise you — good and bad. Situations like this can bring out the worst in people, but they can also bring out the best in people you would never have expected to count on for assistance. You may, in fact, find that telling people is an amazing relief and yields a tremendous amount of support. Check out our article on “Addressing Comments at Work” for more ideas on how to handle such conversations.
Other Tips on How to Tell Your Coworkers
- If you’re telling just one or two colleagues, create a comfortable, private environment in which to tell them.
- Reveal only as much as you want to in a straightforward manner. People will take their cues from how you present yourself.
- If you’re comfortable, let them know they can ask you questions. As you know only too well, some people have no experience with cancer and don’t know what you’re facing, this doesn't mean they don't want to understand better!
- Explain to your confidants what to expect in terms of future absences, and let them know there may be times when your mood and productivity will be affected. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can rely on them for help. It’s better to let them prepare for handling a few of your duties beforehand than to spring it on them at the last minute.
- Consider letting people know if you expect your appearance to change in terms of hair loss, skin and weight changes. Explain to them that it’s part of the process of getting better.
- Most importantly, reassure your coworkers that you’re not disappearing on them. You’d still like to be in the loop and remind them that they can play a role in that. Let them know you still plan to be an integral part of the team.
Page Updated 2023.