When a colleague has cancer
We spoke to a cancer survivor who shared her unique insights to get some tips on how to support a work colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Your workmate has cancer. You want to help, but you’re not sure what you can practically do to support your colleague. There are no rules and no one size fits all approach. But these simple suggestions may help you help your colleague with some day to day considerations.
Offer a listening ear
Take the lead from them to understand how much they want to talk. Everyone has a different level of comfort, some prefer to keep their diagnosis private, and others want people to know. If you are struggling to find words to express your care and concern, a simple card to say “Thinking of You” will let them know who to call on when they want a listening ear.
Share their work responsibilities
If there are opportunities to help take on some of your colleague’s responsibilities, ask them if this would help. If they welcome this support, discuss your ideas with your manager and their manager. If this is possible, arrange a meeting to discuss the plan in finer detail to manage everyone’s expectations, deliverables and outcomes.
It may not be possible to take on a colleague’s workload but you can offer support in other ways. Ask if there is anything they need that will help take some pressure off them. Sometimes having a second set of eyes combined with the concern of a thoughtful colleague can help someone get through the work week.
Be their work-from-home support
Your colleague may choose to work from home during their treatment and recovery. Ask if there are specific matters you can support with. Are there items from the workplace they need that you or another colleague drop off? Check if they would like you to organise virtual meetings or catch-up sessions to fill them in on matters at work.
At times, we forget how much of our interactions through the day make up our work environment and help progress our deliverables. The key is to find steps to help your colleague feel connected to the workplace even if they have to be physically away for a little while.
Returning to work
The return to work should be thought about well before the first day your colleague steps back into the workplace. It is different to someone returning from a holiday or time away to pursue personal projects. Your colleague will be trying to balance hospital appointments, side effects of treatments, responsibilities at work and at home, plus still trying to recover.
Be mindful that they may have good and bad days. Help them return to work by giving them affirmative feedback. Advocate for them if necessary. Understand that they may not be able to step right back into what they were doing before the diagnosis. Be patient if they need more time and effort to get through tasks.
Share your lunch
If you bring homemade lunches to work, why not make an extra serve and bring it in for your colleague? Be sure though to check on dietary requirements. If they are choosing healthier options, what a great way to join them in your personal journey towards a similar change. Food is a great way to bring people together, especially in times of need.
If you didn’t have time to make something, you could offer to buy lunch. Alternatively, you could use your lunch break to go for a walk with your colleague. This way you both can spend some time together, with the added bonus of getting fresh air and exercise.
Sometimes, it’s these little gestures that can help your colleague through some of their darkest days.
Carpool to work
Driving to work or catching public transport may not be ideal for your colleague who is undergoing treatments. Maybe you could try a carpool? Any expectations of shared expenses should be discussed at the outset to avoid any awkward misunderstandings.
Look out for them
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Keep an eye out for your colleague. There may be moments or days that no one expects or is prepared for. Help them get through these times. Some people may want to talk to someone or prefer to take a walk alone to clear their heads. But you can still ‘be there’ for them. A cup of tea can make an enormous difference.
You don't have to do it alone either. If there are a few colleagues that all want to pitch in, an app like Thrivor can help organise who can do what to pitch in.