Vincy Workplace
June 6, 2014
What to do when a co-worker has cancer

Recently, two family members were diagnosed with cancer.  The news was devastating, and in both cases we immediately started to figure how to get the best possible treatment for them.  It quickly became apparent that the journey in treating cancer can be complicated, depending on where you live, who you are and how well you can advocate for yourself.  {{more}}As if that wasn’t enough, I realized that the healing can be made more arduous if the person is worried about work or the lack of work, which affects their finances.

Unfortunately, every day someone is told they have cancer. Family, friends and co-workers are often devastated by the news and many have no idea how to respond or even if they should respond.  As St Vincent and the Grenadines spends the month of June promoting cancer awareness, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

Cancer is not contagious. No matter how close you get to a cancer patient, you cannot contract cancer, so there is no need to ostracize someone with the disease.

Not everyone dies from cancer.  Cancer is often seen as a death sentence, especially in the Caribbean region, and it does not have to be.

Offer your genuine support.  It’s okay to let your co-worker know that you are there if you can help in completing work duties, if necessary.  However, don’t assume that they are instantly incapable of performing their duties.   

Treat the person with compassion.  Cancer patients are still people. When you are around them, please refrain from excessive crying and morbid conversation.  The person is still alive, so help them enjoy that time instead of focusing only on the effects of cancer.  Carry on the relationship as before; be funny, silly  and even a little sarcastic, if that was the nature of the relationship before.

Offer support around the home.  Some cancer patients do not always have as much energy while going through treatment.  If you have time, offer to run errands, give them a ride to appointments or help out in any way. If you say yes to a commitment, make sure you honour it.

Skip the gossip when physical changes occur.  Sometimes, there are physical changes in the patient; hair loss and weight loss are not unusual.  The changes can also be very dramatic for some people. If that occurs, it’s easy to get involved in conversation about how thin or how much hair has been lost.  Please resist the urge to engage in such unkind conversations. 

Hold a fund-raiser.  One of the reasons many Caribbean nationals feel a sense of hopelessness after a cancer diagnosis is due in part to the financial cost associated with finding care regionally or even internationally.  Holding  fund-raisers is yet another way to  lend your support to the family of the patient; however, please ask permission to do so before you organize any events.

Do not publicize the diagnosis.  Some people prefer to fight their cancer in private.  In other words, they prefer that only a few people know their health situation.  If that is the case, please respect that person’s decision and their privacy and keep your mouth closed.

Send cards. Individual personalized cards, phone calls and uplifting emails can go a long way. 

Keep them in the loop. Anyone who is sick and absent from their regular routine can feel lonely.  Do your best to update them on events in the community and at work.

Take stock of your own health.  Although the causes of many cancers are unknown, this is a good time for you to evaluate your own health and that of your family members.  The Caribbean is chock-full of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and medicinal herbs, yet we’ve traded it all in for a diet full of processed foods high in fat, sugar, and too much deep frying.  Make it a priority to eat well and incorporate exercise a few times per week.  Many companies across the globe are now attaching incentives to employees who lose weight and eat well.

The Big C does not have to be a death sentence. Let’s be proactive towards our health and support those fighting to regain their health.

Watch for the list of cancer awareness events throughout the month of June and help break the silence on cancer.  Attend the events and bring a friend.

Karen Hinds is “The Workplace Success Expert.” For a FREE SPECIAL REPORT on Avoiding Career Killers in the Workplace, send an email to [email protected]

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