How To Support A Colleague With Cancer

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In the United States, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will develop cancer during their lifetime – a shocking statistic that really brings the prevalence of cancer close to home. Regardless of your career path or sector, the chances are that at some stage or another a colleague of yours will be diagnosed with this horrible disease. While at first you may feel helpless, the truth is that there is a lot you can do to support a colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer or is receiving cancer treatment. Here are four tips for supporting a colleague with cancer.

Don’t let cancer become the conversation

Aside from when your co-worker initiates a cancer-related conversation, try not to bring up cancer or to start workplace conversations about it. For cancer sufferers, work is often a chance to focus on something other than their diagnosis and they will not want to be reminded of their illness by having it brought up in casual conversation. Be respectful when conversing with other colleagues, even if the individual with cancer is not in the same room, gossip can travel fast and feeling as though people are talking behind your back, even if it is with sympathy, can be very hurtful. 

Don’t just say “Let me know if I can do anything”

‘Let me know if I can do anything’ is a statement that many cancer sufferers will simply answer with an ‘ok’ and will never actually ask you for help. Having cancer can make a person feel helpless and they may not want to ask for help, this often means being more specific with the areas in which you can provide them with aid. Try offering more direct help such as ‘can I help you with a lift to work on Tuesday?’ or ‘Can I take this task off your hands?’. Providing specific examples of how you can help shows thought and compassion.

Don’t underestimate the power of a card or gift basket

If your colleague is receiving treatment in the hospital or is taking a leave of absence at home, then don’t underestimate the power of sending a card or gift basket. Cards can be read at the person’s leisure and revisited at times when they want to read your kind words. Gift baskets can also be fantastic pick-me-ups, especially when everyone pitches in for an item and adds in a personal message. These gifts may seem like little help, but during a difficult time, they provide an often very welcome comfort. 


Make a date rather than calling in

Finally, even if you know the person very well, it’s always best to make a date with them if you would like to arrange a visit to their home or the hospital, rather than surprising them with a visit. Cancer can be a very tiring disease and treatment takes a huge emotional and physical toll on a person’s body. Although you may want to surprise them with the best intentions, it may not be a good time and so it’s always best to make a date in advance so that the person can prepare and cancel if needed. 
Sadly, cancer remains a very prolific disease and we are all likely to know someone with it at one time or another. All we can do in such instances is to be kind, compassionate and supportive to our friends, colleagues or relatives in need.

Last updated on April 1, 2023


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