What to say, what to do?

You work alongside a colleague who has just received a diagnosis of cancer, who is continuing to work during treatment or who has just returned to work. You're probably wondering how to relate to them.

To help your colleague live more easily with the illness, adopt an attitude characterized by respect and delicacy. Be present and listen. This will make them feel supported and less isolated, and ease their daily ordeal with cancer.

What you should do

  • Respect your colleague’s needs to share with others or remain silent.
  • Respect your colleague’s decisions about their cancer treatment even if you disagree.
  • Include your colleague in current work projects and social activities. Leave it up to them to decide whether or not they are able to participate.
  • Listen without always thinking you should say something. Sometimes, your colleague simply needs a friendly ear.
  • Make sure that your relationships are as normal and balanced as possible. Although you should show more patience and compassion in this situation, your colleague should continue to respect your feelings as you do theirs.
  • Check before you do something for your colleague, no matter how useful you think it will be.
  • Let your colleague know what’s happening at work.
  • Send your colleague greeting cards and include some anecdotes explaining why you miss having them around. It could have a greater effect if everyone sent a card individually.

What to avoid

  • Judging, and giving unwanted advice.
  • Assuming that your colleague is unable to do their job. They need to know that their contribution is valuable to the company.
  • Feeling that you have to accept their shocking outbursts or mood swings. You shouldn’t have to put up with disruptive behavior simply because someone is sick.
  • Taking things too personally.
  • Being afraid to talk about their illness.
  • Thinking you should always be talking about cancer. Your colleague might enjoy conversations that make no mention of their illness.
  • Being afraid to hug or touch your colleague if this was part of your friendly habits before their illness.
  • Adopting a patronizing tone. Avoid asking your colleague how they are doing in a way that implies “What is the state of your health today?”
  • Telling your colleague “I can imagine how you must feel,” because you probably can’t.

Corporate Support Program

The Quebec Cancer Foundation offers a Corporate Support Program that offers guidance to all those who are affected by cancer in the workplace. Feel free to use this free service that is designed to help you and your colleagues better understand the person dealing by cancer.

To express your concerns and for any questions you may have, please contact the staff at the Quebec Cancer Foundation’s Info-Cancer service. Our researchers can also suggest some useful readings and send them to you free of charge. One number to find answers and reassurance: 1 800 363-0063.

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