3 Things Cancer Patients Ask of Their Employers

by Brian English

Dear Employer:
I have been diagnosed with cancer. While this has impacted my health, it has not changed my work ethic, nor my intelligence, nor my dedication to my fellow coworkers and the company’s goals. While I am being treated for this disease, please treat me with the respect that I’ve worked so hard to earn in my position.

3 Things Cancer Patients Want Employers To Know

Signed,
Working Cancer Patients Everywhere

One of the least explored aspects of the changes that cancer can cause in your life is the impact it can have at work. Many cancer patients find that their illness has made an impact on their careers and their work lives have changed … and not for the better.

Sadly, this not an uncommon occurrence. And the culprit is not personal animosity toward the patient, but usually corporate cluelessness and inefficiency. According to a survey of 500 human resource professionals conducted by the cancer screening company Check4Cancer, 71% of companies have no official policy in place for communication with – or management of – employees with a cancer diagnosis. Further, they revealed that 48% of managers were unprepared for handling staff members who have cancer.

The result of corporate inattention to the healthcare issue of cancer can often be a form of workplace discrimination that can be either subtle or blatantly obvious. There can be an unspoken assumption that the coworker being treated for cancer is less able to do their job, or incapable of performing at a high level. This can lead to demotions, being passed over for promotions – even pushback from management when trying to schedule time off for crucial medical appointments.

Here are some things that all cancer patients would like ask of their companies and coworkers:

A little understanding goes a long way


No cancer patient wants to be treated differently because of their disease. And while it’s natural for coworkers and managers to handle employees with cancer with kid gloves or to “walk on egg shells,” this can be hurtful. Cancer patients don’t want to be seen as fundamentally different simply because they’re battling a disease. Instead of sympathy, try using a little understanding.

WhatNexter DoreenLouise was told by a supervisor to go to a conference room whenever she needed to “talk about her cancer” – this included calls to schedule treatment appointments. Later when Doreen discussed her some issues with her doctor while at her desk, she was sent an email by an employee reminding her not to talk about her cancer because, her coworker wrote, “it upsets me.” It’s hard to believe that anyone could be so callous, but it truly takes all kinds. If this coworker had just been understanding enough (and a lot less selfish), this hurtful email would never have been sent.

Your flexibility is appreciated


Cancer patients work valiantly to overcome the disease’s impact on their lives. While none of them are expected to be treated as heroes because of their efforts, a bit of understanding from company management for the extenuating circumstances of cancer treatment doesn’t seem to be much to ask.

WhatNexter LauraMTD was on her third round of chemo, and the treatment was causing her considerable intestinal issues. As a result, she writes, she had to use the bathroom at least once an hour. Eventually, LauraMTD’s supervisor told her that she “was only allowed two 15 minute breaks per day,” and she was “overusing them.” Rules sticklers of this variety are to be found in every office, but under LauraMTD’s circumstances, this seems particularly unfeeling.

Don’t define me by my illness


Privately, many patients are proud when they have endured and survived a bout of cancer. However, this doesn’t mean that they wish this moment to define the rest of their lives.

WhatNexter cllinda writes that when she returned to work from her treatment, she was introduced to a new employee as “Linda, a breast cancer survivor.” Unsurprisingly, this rubbed Linda the wrong way. She felt (correctly) that it was inappropriate for the new employee to be told that Linda had cancer at all. Eventually, Linda asked her boss to stop mentioning it. The boss doesn’t say it any more, but it’s incredible Linda had to ask this manager to stop in the first place.

Have you had issues with your employer after your diagnosis? How did you resolve them?

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