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Welcome to part three of a little series called Sharing Cancer at Work. This series focuses on the who, when, what, how, and other general concerns about sharing your cancer diagnosis at work.

This series is beneficial for you if:

1. You have cancer and work (43.5% of those diagnosed are between the ages of 35-65, which are prime working years).

2. You are a manager, your employee has cancer, and you don’t know how to help and are worried about team productivity.

3. You are an HR leader and know of an employee in your company who has cancer. This article offers valuable insight into common thoughts that recently diagnosed employees may have.

Also, please share this article. Right now. Seriously. Hit that share button.

I am 100% sure that you know someone who knows someone who will find this series really helpful!


Ok so you’ve decided to share your diagnosis, you know the seven more common reactions to the news of cancer and you have set your expectations, an important part of this journey.

Now it’s time to start sharing.


It’s impossible to provide guidance that fits everyone. Who you share this information with depends on the company culture, your relationships at work, and the overall number of people you want to know. You’re gonna have to feel your way through this one, just like everyone you share your diagnosis with.

Let’s Talk Preparing to Tell Others

How do you prepare yourself to tell the news? First, keep in mind that you can ask HR, your boss, or your peers to share the news. Developing a communication plan before you start will be helpful. A plan will allow you to maintain control over the message as much as possible, especially if you are leading a team. It also helps you bring order to your message outline who you will tell, when, and what you will share with them.

Second, before you start sharing, it’s helpful that you find a cancer point person at work and share the news with them first, but swear them to secrecy. Look, people are going to want to help you. They aren’t going to be sure how to help and they’re gonna ask you what they can do. You don’t have to have an answer to that question right then but for your sanity, it’s a great idea to have a point person at work who can funnel meals, well wishes, and gifts to you. This is especially true if you are going to be in the office intermittently. You really don’t need everyone and their mother approaching you every time you’re at work asking to bring you a meal. This point person will be the receiver of the “what can we do to help” question. With a point person, you simply need to say, “Thank you! Please check in with ____, they are coordinating support.”

Let’s Talk about Least Helpful Phrase

If you could get a dollar for every time someone says “Let me know if you need anything” you could retire.

You may feel ashamed when you realize how unhelpful it is because you know you’ve said it and me too. I said it all the time when I was on the muggle side of cancer. It wasn’t until my husband had cancer that we realized how unhelpful that sentence was. All you can do is thank them and send them to talk to your point person. I am personally working on stamping out that phrase, but I have a ways to go. To learn why this is the least helpful thing to say, click here.

Whom To Share Your Diagnosis With

Who you share your diagnosis with is based on your style (found in part 2). However, I recommend that there is an order in the people you should tell first no matter your style. This order is based on who will be affected by your diagnosis and who can support you. No matter who you share the information with, be sure to state that you do not want this information shared if that is how you feel. While it’s illegal for a coworker to share your medical information, many people are unaware of this law.

#1 Your boss:

If your diagnosis interferes with your work, be it time out of the office or side effects from your treatment, your boss needs to know. This is not a do-you-have-a-moment conversation. Set a time to meet or tell them you need fifteen uninterrupted minutes to discuss something important. You might want to let them know you are not quitting! (In this economy that may be what they’re thinking!) This conversation can be uncomfortable, so be prepared to be asked questions that you may not be able to fully answer yet. Remember to check your expectations.

There is one exception to sharing the information with your boss first, which is if they are not nice. There are vindictive bosses, bosses who play favorites, bosses who gossip and narcissistic bosses. A bad boss, in this case, is defined as someone who is not understanding, gossips about employees, and is not trustworthy. Those bosses for sure don’t know the laws regarding the disclosure of information and some of them don’t care! Add in people’s misconceptions about working with cancer, and it’s an almost untenable situation. If this is the kind of boss you have, I recommend that you lean on HR or make sure to have a coworker present. In addition, jot down notes about what was said in the meeting immediately afterward. You might need them!

#2 HR:

If you have an HR department, I recommend them as your next stop with one exception…if your HR is not safe. Unfortunately, there are HR departments that don’t know the laws, are the center of gossip, or are not helpful. If this is the case for you, HR may not be a great place to share. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information with HR, please let me know. There are other resources that can help you get the protection you need, despite HR!

If HR is good at their job, you will want to ask about FMLA, ADA, state disability (if available), and benefits. Many HR/Benefits people are unaware of extra benefits available through insurance or EAP coverage. Ask HR to do some digging for you (they can ask the broker). If you think there are hidden benefits, ask a friend to research for you. For instance, some insurance companies have cancer support specialists who can help you navigate through unique treatments or medical bills. It’s not a ‘regular’ benefit, but so many benefits that people are unaware of them.

#3 Management Team:

If you are on a management team, letting them know about your diagnosis can be helpful. Your peers can help you with your team, provide you with objective insights into your cancer workplan and also help you share your diagnosis with others. Other managers may have insight that you will find helpful.

#4 Your Team:

Sharing the news with your team is essential. If you will be in and out of the office or your appearance is expected to change, it is better to share the information than to hide it. If you do not share it, stories will be made up about what is happening, and the uncertainty will lead to fear, possibly lower retention, and definitely lower productivity. People always prefer to know what is going on rather than guessing. If you have a plan in place and share it with your team, they will feel less worried.

#5 Your Clients:

Next to telling your team, telling clients raises the most significant concerns. Deciding to share the news with clients depends on a host of factors, such as if you are a freelancer, if your treatment will affect work (see To Tell or Not to Tell), how often you interact with clients, your relationship with them, and who already knows at work.

Sharing your cancer diagnosis at work will be draining. That is why a communication plan can be so helpful. Heck if you don’t know who to tell beyond your boss and you have that kind of great boss, they can help you develop a communication plan. Now the question is, what do you say?

I’ll discuss that in Part 4: How to Share Your Cancer Diagnosis at Work.

This concludes article number three. If you can’t wait until then or have a burning question, drop me a line at or message me. I’m happy to answer your questions.

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