Supporting a Co-worker with a Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Tips and Guidance

A cancer diagnosis can significantly impact a young adult’s work life. The physical and emotional toll of treatment can make it difficult to focus on work tasks, and the uncertainty of the disease can make it challenging to plan for the future. Supporting your co-worker through this challenging time is critical.

For a young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to balance the demands of work with the demands of treatment and recovery. They may need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery and may experience side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or pain that can make working difficult. They may also struggle with emotional and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and fear.


Tips for supporting a co-worker

As a co-worker, it’s important to be understanding and supportive of a colleague diagnosed with cancer. Here are some helpful tips for how to support a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Be understanding of their need to take time off for treatments and appointments.
  • Offer to help with tasks or projects if they need to take a leave of absence.
  • Check-in with them regularly to see how they are doing and offer your support.
  • Remember that they may be dealing with emotional stress and be sensitive to their feelings.
  • Offer to help with transportation, meals, or other needs they may have.
  • Please respect their privacy and do not share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission.
  • Be patient and understanding if they need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery.



What to avoid when supporting a co-worker

On the other hand, here are some things to avoid when supporting a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Don’t ask them invasive or personal questions about their diagnosis or treatment
  • Don’t treat them differently because of their cancer diagnosis.
  • Don’t share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission
  • Don’t make assumptions about their ability to work or perform their job duties
  • Don’t pressure them to talk about their diagnosis or treatment if they don’t want to

Most importantly, don’t avoid them. Returning to the workplace is already hard enough without colleagues making it feel even more awkward and uncomfortable. If you haven’t seen them in a while, it is normal not to know what to say. Want to get off to a great start? Try a friendly, “It’s good to have you back. How’s it going so far?” and hold space for their reply.

Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, so be sensitive to your co-worker’s unique needs and feelings. By being understanding and supportive, you can help your co-worker navigate this difficult time and maintain a sense of normalcy in their work life.

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Finding Normalcy: The Vital Role it Plays after a Cancer Diagnosis

Normalcy refers to the state of being normal, usual, typical, or expected. It is often sought after by adolescents and young adults (AYAs) diagnosed with cancer because a diagnosis can greatly disrupt their day-to-day lives and cause significant stress and anxiety.

For adolescents and young adults, normalcy is vital because it provides a sense of stability and predictability in their lives. It helps them feel like they are still in control of their lives and can continue to engage in activities and experiences that are meaningful to them. Normalcy can be particularly critical for young people still developing their sense of identity and independence. Maintaining important relationships and knowing they have loved ones in their corner helps smooth the transition to survivorship and life beyond cancer.


How to provide normalcy

Providing normalcy for an adolescent or young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer can include several things:

Preserving routines that are important to them. This could be something as simple as that Friday pizza and movie hangout that you used to do, or eating a favorite meal (have it delivered if they can’t go out), or a favorite game night.

Allow them to stay engaged in activities and hobbies they enjoy. This could include sports, music, art, or other extracurricular activities. Collaborate with their care team to understand and address any limitations. This will help ensure inclusion in desired activities and enable tailored solutions that either bring the activities directly to them or provide the necessary assistance for participation.

Encouraging them to maintain their relationships with friends and family members. This can be done through regular phone calls, video chats, or visits. Be sure they have the necessary tools to stay connected.

Helping them to stay on track with their education or career plans. This could include working with school administrators or employers to make accommodations for treatments or absences.

Helping them to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy by holding space for them to make decisions about their care and treatment and respecting their choices.

Helping them to find ways to continue to be engaged in their community, for example, by volunteering or participating in support groups for young adults with cancer.

Helping them find ways to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of a cancer diagnosis, for example, through counseling or support groups.


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It is important to remember that every adolescent and young adult will have different needs and preferences when it comes to maintaining normalcy in their lives after a cancer diagnosis. Please be respectful of their wishes and tailor the support accordingly. Needs will change over time, so continue to ask what activities are important to them.

Providing a sense of normalcy for an adolescent or young adult diagnosed with cancer will allow them to maintain a sense of control over their lives, even in the face of a challenging illness. It can help them feel less isolated and alone and provide them with a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

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