Sharing your cancer diagnosis with work

Dealing with a new cancer diagnosis can be a scary and overwhelming journey. There may be big emotions tied to personally processing this news, sharing it with family and loved ones, and coming to terms with how your life might change. If you work, you’ll likely also be wondering if, how and when to tell your boss and colleagues.

If you do decide to share your news, it might help to plan your approach and consider who you want to tell, and how much you want to disclose. At the very least it’s worth considering that by being transparent with your employer (be it HR or your line manager), you’ll be more likely to receive the support and understanding necessary to help you through your treatment.

Here are 5 helpful tips on how to share your diagnosis, your way…

  1. 1. Develop a Plan

A good place to start is to speak with your doctor. By fully understanding your treatment plan, as well as the different ways it might affect the way you feel mentally and physically, you’ll be better able to relay this information to your employer. Specifically, find out if you’ll need any time off for appointments and how often this will occur, as well as if your treatment requires any downtime.

The second part of your planning consists of deciding how much information you feel comfortable sharing with your employer and colleagues, as well as how and when you’d like to share your news. You might want to consult one of the following people:

  • Your line manager
  • A Human Resources (HR) manager
  • An occupational health advisor
  • Your trade union representative
  1. 2. Decide Who You’d Like to Tell

Making your colleagues and/or manager aware of your diagnosis is totally up to you. Every person feels differently about this decision and there’s no right or wrong answer. It may help to weigh up the pros and cons of making others aware of your diagnosis. Consider the type of relationships you have at work and whether letting any of them know will be helpful. It’s impossible to predict how your team will react, however, you can consider your own personality and peace of mind when deciding how their knowledge of your diagnosis might affect you. Ask yourself, will it help you to feel understood and supported, or will it make you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable?

  1. 3. Discuss The Road Ahead

Once you’ve made your decisions and had the conversations, you can begin to plan the road ahead. This might mean adjusting your working hours to accommodate appointments and post-treatment downtime. It could also include switching from in-office workdays to fully remote ones, a reduction in hours or more frequent breaks, or perhaps lightening your workload. Work closely with your manager to devise a plan that is most suitable. If possible, try to keep the plan fluid so that you can monitor and re-evaluate, making adjustments as you go. It could be that continuing to work helps you to feel motivated and distracted from your treatment, it could also be that you’ll feel like you need more rest and less work pressure. Again, every person experiences their diagnosis differently and there is no right or wrong way to feel.

  1. 4. Keep a Record

Keep a record of what has been discussed and the accommodating plans that have been made. Most employers are understanding and supportive of employees who have been diagnosed with cancer, however it’s helpful to have a documented paper trail so that everyone is clear what has been agreed.

  1. 5. Learn Your Rights

In the UK, cancer is considered a disability under the Equality Act of 2010, which means it’s unlawful for your employer to discriminate or treat you unfavourably because of your diagnosis. If you need to take time off or are unable to work, ask your employer to share the company policy with you and to let you know what you’re entitled to. You may be entitled to fully or partially paid sick leave or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) depending on what your contract specifies.

Once you’ve told your employer about your diagnosis, they have a lawful duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate you – should you wish to continue to work. That’s why it’s good to have a prepared plan, so that you can begin to raise points you would like considered.

Knowing your rights isn’t so much about ‘fighting for what’s owed to you’ as it is about bringing you peace of mind, knowing that these laws are in place for this exact situation and that you are protected.

Check Your Rights – Macmillan Cancer Support.

Access to Work provides advice and practical support if you have a long-term health condition that affects how you work. This might include help with extra costs caused by your diagnosis.

EASS - Equality Advisory & Support Service (equality & human rights) across the UK.

In support of Ovarian cancer Awareness Month, we’ve collated some relevant resources to help raise awareness, as well as provide support for those who have been diagnosed.

Ovarian Cancer Resources

NHS – help and support for ovarian cancer
Target Ovarian Cancer – support and information
Ovacome – support and information
Cancer Research UK – resources and organisations for ovarian cancer
Macmillan Cancer Support – ovarian cancer
The Eve Appeal – gynaecological cancer support

Further Resources

Macmillan Cancer Support – work and cancer
Macmillan cancer Support – support line
Cancer support UK
Cancer Research UK
Maggie’s – care and support