Sharing your cancer diagnosis with others is an incredibly personal decision. Without a roadmap to follow, you might be wondering:
Will I lose my job or my health insurance benefits?
Will my boss or coworkers be supportive?
Will taking time off impact my work relationships or ability to meet my goals?
Will I be able to support myself or my family financially?
Deciding When and Whom to Tell
It’s important to note that under U.S. law, you are not required to disclose your diagnosis to a current or potential employer. The size of your company, your specific role, and how private you are as a person can all be factors in deciding whether to share.
For some, sharing a diagnosis with a manager can help alleviate the stress of managing cancer alone, as they can be a valuable source of support and care.
However, it might make sense to wait until you have a finalized diagnosis and treatment plan before doing so. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of the timeline and how potential side effects could impact your productivity and work schedule.
If you’re working closely with certain colleagues, or have a tight-knit team, you may decide to inform a wider group. Keep in mind that you can also share what your privacy preferences are. If you don’t want the information repeated to others, it’s good to be explicit about it.
Prepping for the Conversation
Feeling nervous about sharing such personal news? You may choose to introduce the topic conservatively and add details later. While you can always share more over time, you can’t un-share.
Jot down a few notes or consider meeting with an Iris mental health therapist for support beforehand. This will allow you to practice what you want to say and think about the kind of questions or misconceptions you might encounter, such as “Will you be able to work at all?”
Once you’re ready to break the news, consider opening the conversation with a statement that sets the tone, such as “I have something personal to tell you.” From there, cover the basics and explain what to expect in terms of time away or, if you choose, any potential changes to your energy level, appearance, or productivity.
Finally, remind them that the situation may evolve over time. With cancer comes some level of uncertainty, and you can only share what you know at this time.
Still feeling tongue-tied? Feel free to adopt these phrases as your own:
Setting the tone:
- “This might come as a surprise to hear.”
- “This is very vulnerable for me to share.”
- “While I don’t usually talk about my health at work, I have something important to share.”
Asking for what you need:
- “Right now, I plan to continue to work, and I’ll need to take some time off.”
- “It would feel supportive to continue to be involved in work—please keep me informed.”
- “This is my news to share; please don’t share it for me.”
- “Asking me how I feel can catch me off guard. When I’m at work I’d like to focus on work.”
- “I’ll share updates with you and the team when I’m ready.”
- “This is how I’d like to be supported right now…” (examples: I appreciate messages of support / cards / distracting and funny memes / not stories of how your friend/family member had the same cancer)”
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Reviewed by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board
This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.