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Sunday 30th May 2021: Cancer – telling your colleagues.

Image of a dachshund in homemade superhero custom, standing in the child seat of a shopping trolley. The background is a wooden fence, the light is warm and golden. Text reads "I am the Lead Character in my own story".
This was my goal – I wanted to frame my experience myself. I found it grounding and centring view my cancer experience through my own lens.

How do you tell your work colleagues you have cancer?

I’m interested in any strategies that other people have used to tell work colleagues about a cancer diagnosis. Also what your thoughts were on them. Were they your strategies or the strategies of someone else?

It felt like I didn’t have a model for how to tell colleagues I had cancer. No, I lie, I did have a model, I just thought it was awful and unsupportive.

The model I have observed is that people just disappear. Some other colleague who might be more friendly with the person might then mention in passing that they have cancer. Or there will be the catch-all”unwell”. Then the person reappears and has to deal with addressing their absence.

Telling my work colleagues I had cancer – what I didn’t want.

I decided I didn’t want to do the disappearing act.

So how did I tell people? I started with what I didn’t want.

The,”email all” approach didn’t appeal. I work for an organisation that has three separate centres and there are people I haven’t met in Support, let alone the other centres!

My work situation at the time.

I was seconded at the time into an Instructional Design position for our Learning Centre. My immediate manager had been amazing, and I floated the idea past them of writing something for the newsletter that the Learning Centre put out every month.

My logic was that the Learning Centre newsletter was sent across all departments and disciplines. Therefore specific team leaders could then share what I wrote with, for example, the team where my substantive position rested.

Again, whilst there is a degree of emotional labour in communicating like this, it lessens the emotional labour of having to repeat yourself constantly.

I spoke to the Learning Centre Manager and they were also very supportive. Again, I can only emphasise how important this is. If you manage people, consider how you might handle this situation.

Newsletter: how I told my colleagues I had cancer.

Background and diagnosis

After being unwell over the last few months, undergoing a series of medical tests across April through until mid May, I have now been diagnosed with early breast cancer.

I have tumours in both breasts, and I am currently in the process of waiting for what will be quite an extensive surgery. The recovery time is also anticipated to be longer than usual.

Off work

I am off work to focus on my health for the next couple of months. I will be staying in touch with the Learning Centre team at [redacted] and the Instructional Design team.


I’d like to put a huge shout out to [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted] for their support over the last two months and to [redacted] for being my representative in dealing with all the administrative work side of things. [redacted] has been another constant, as she has been since I started at [redacted], 12 years ago (well, nearly – my anniversary is August 02nd).

I have joked many times over the last two months about [redacted] being my external brain, but honestly, it’s been a difficult time, compounded by moving house (because timing is everything!).

The Learning Centre team have been amazing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

See y’ all on the other side!
Be well, stay safe.

This bit was so hard! I didn’t know how to sign off… Again, my design team helped me troubleshoot.



Unexpected outcome

My submission was made on the 30th May to my Manager, and they then put it into the June newsletter. By that stage, I had kind of signed off on it in my head. I honestly didn’t expect the response I got!

Colleagues emailed me, sent me messages, and there were even flowers.

I was incredibly moved by the outpouring of support.

There were also some real practical offers. We were still in lockdown, but people offered home cooked meals with contactless delivery, I had some people donate leave, I had some very pragmatic people gift Uber and Menulog gift cards.

Uber and Menulog gift cards were such a boon. Gift cards and vouchers for practical things like meals and transport have been so helpful.

After this general announcement, I included the people who reached out from work in all my updates. Which reminds me… I haven’t done a general update whilst I have been working through all these anniversaries, I should probably do one!

Self checks

Ensure that you are vigilant around your self-examination. Train yourself to check your breasts/testicles routinely, and monitor your bowel habits and your urine output. These are our body’s early warning signs, and we don’t have a lot of awareness of them.

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