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Talking to Your Co-workers about Your Breast Cancer

Benefits and Drawbacks To Confiding Your Diagnosis

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Updated July 08, 2010

I hustled my co-worker Connie into my office and closed the door. "Connie, I have something to tell you about," I started. We had shared many conversations about work, girlhood, our favorite foods and family matters. "Connie, I found a lump and had a biopsy and I have breast cancer." My normally calm coworker burst into tears and threw her arms around me. Her mother had died from breast cancer a year earlier. Connie was one co-worker that I felt good talking to about my breast cancer.

You Are Not Required To Reveal Your Cancer Diagnosis

Your breast cancer diagnosis is a very private topic. Unless you know that you will have chemotherapy and you plan on revealing your bald beautiful head, you do not have to tell any of your co-workers that you have breast cancer. But if you work in a team environment or you may need help with some job duties during treatment and recovery, consider telling a few people who can keep a confidence. They may become more than coworkers to you - they may become supporters.

Cancer In The Corporate Culture

Unless you own the company, you do not get to choose your co-workers. You may work in competition or cooperation with them. Personalities will vary greatly; educational levels and family backgrounds will contrast like the pieces of a crazy quilt. You never know how people will react to the news of a cancer diagnosis - some may be sympathetic, some may see you as weak, others will shy away out of fear, and the best will offer unconditional support. Cancer reminds us that we are mortal - and that's not a topic that most corporate cultures have to consider.

Test Questions To Consider

When you are considering which of your co-workers to talk to about your cancer diagnosis, try asking yourself these test questions about the person. Keep in mind that your employer should be told about your diagnosis, and while they are legally bound to keep it confidential, your co-workers are not. If you can answer "yes" to each question, then you have found a good person to talk with.

  • Will this coworker will be impacted by my absence from work?
  • Have this person and I already established a good relationship?
  • Can this person keep a confidence, if I confide in them?
  • Is this person a good, nonjudgmental listener?
  • Is this a positive, supportive person?

Loose Lips Won't Sink Your Ship

You may carefully choose which co-workers to confide in, your boss may respect your privacy with professional courtesy, and your news may still leak out. When that happens, you'll know that human nature has triumphed and the rumor mill has been grinding away. Take refuge in honesty - confirm that you're a survivor but you are not defined by your diagnosis. Then if you are not comfortable continuing that topic, change the subject or excuse yourself. Don't waste time trying to find the source of the leak - save your energy for treatment and recovery. And remember if people make insensitive or rude comments about your cancer, you can always be prepared with some snappy comebacks.

Sources:

Working During Cancer Treatment - Will I be able to work while I am getting treatment? American Cancer Society. Accessed in July 7, 2010.

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