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When a colleague has been diagnosed with cancer, people can react in different ways.
Some may have dealt with cancer before - perhaps they’ve had a family member who has had cancer. But others may not have dealt with cancer or any other serious illness before, and they may feel at a loss to know what to say or do. Some people may feel too embarrassed to say anything at all.
You may think it’s best to carry on as normal, as if nothing is wrong. But it’s quite natural to feel upset or worried if your co-worker has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s important to talk about your feelings, especially if it has a big impact on you at work.
Your colleague may have told you themselves that they have cancer. Or you may have been told by someone else.
If your colleague tells you themselves, you could ask them how you can help and whether they’d like you to ask after their health, or if they would rather not talk about it. You could ask who else knows about their situation, and if they want to keep it to only a few people or whether it’s general knowledge. Take the lead from them about how they want to handle the situation. There are some things that can generally help:
You may find it helpful to talk to your manager, other colleagues or people outside of work (if your colleague is happy for the information to be shared). Some workplaces have an employee assistance programme (EAP) or other type of support network to help employees affected by cancer or other illness. These are often available through the human resources department.
You may find it helpful to read our section on talking to someone with cancer|. It looks at some of the difficulties people may have when talking about cancer and suggests ways of overcoming them.
Content last reviewed: 1 May 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
Our booklet Lost for words: how to talk to someone with cancer looks at some of the difficulties people may have when talking about cancer and suggests ways of overcoming them.| You can order it from our be.Macmillan website.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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