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What teammates can do to help a coworker battling cancer?

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

It is round two of my battle with cancer! As I initiate my medical leave-of-absence process, I feel fortunate to be working for Cisco – a great company who makes the well-being of its employees a priority!

“Know that you cannot make the illness go away, but little acts of respect and kindness are the greatest things you can do!”

When I was first diagnosed in 2017, I felt lost as I shared the news with my managers. However, the support I got from them was incredible! I was given workhours flexibility so I could manage my medical appointments. At their request, the HR reached out to me directly to guide me through the medical leave process. Post-surgery, my managers visited me at home. My kitchen nook overflowed with flower vases – the smell of those flowers and overwhelming support touched my heart!

As I go through the same fight yet again, I thought about sharing some simple ways teammates can support a coworker battling cancer.

What to do when you hear about the diagnoses?

  • Listen and show a willingness to help. Offer support and encouragement to your coworker. When I shared my recent diagnoses with a teammate, he emailed me offering his prayers and said, “I’d want to come see you after travel restrictions are over.” Another teammate offered to run a couple of customer meetings on my behalf. I was absolutely touched as such gestures are undoubtedly appreciated.

  • Avoid gossiping. Please understand that cancer diagnoses brings in a lot of stress and anxiety and the last thing your coworker would want to find out is that his/her teammates are talking behind the back about the illness and spreading misinformation. Be respectful to your coworker and avoid gossiping about him/her. Instead, gossip about other topics with your coworker since it provides a great distraction from one’s illness.

What to do when a coworker is in active treatment?

  • Send a simple ‘Get well’ message. You don’t have to be physically present to offer support. Brief notes, greeting cards or messages wishing for a timely recovery can remind your coworker that he/she is not alone. Regular check-ins via email or texts are great ways to let your coworker know that you’re thinking about him/her. These messages certainly brighten those stressful days!

  • Choose your words carefully. Focus on caring communication that builds warmth and trust. Refrain from using statements such as, "I know you will be fine." The truth is you don't know what the outcome will be. Compassionate conversations will be warmly received, and both of you will share the gift of such grace.

Once your coworker is back in office, simply say, “It is good to see you!” Know that you cannot make the illness go away, but little acts of respect and kindness are the greatest things you can do!

The cancer journey has been difficult and going through it all over again is quite exhausting. However, having cancer has changed my perspective on everything. I am a survivor and fighting this battle has taught me unmatched resilience. I am forever grateful to everyone who has been there for me and made me feel special!

If you have any comments or would like to offer your support, please feel free to reach out. I would certainly love and appreciate it!

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