Friday, December 2, 2011

Cancer in the workplace

Cancer does not belong in the workplace. Actually health issues do not belong in the workplace. If you are disabled and need modifications to your employment, that is different. If you have a common cold and are sharing your germs with your co-workers, do everyone a favor and go home. But more significant ailments are not required to be in the workplace.

As the patient and employee, you are not required to tell your employer what is wrong with you. It is your choice if you do. But beware the perils of doing so. It doesn't matter how comfortable you are with your employment and your ailment and how much you want to share, it is others' perception of your ailment that is the concern. Cancer is scary to many people. Probably the scariest. There can be a bias as a result. 

I didn't tell any employer or co-worker about my first cancer for 25 years. It was no one's business. Since my second diagnosis, one of my jobs which is a cancer support center, knows about my health issues. My co-workers at my other work know of some of my health issues - even without knowing about cancer I am considered the least healthy person there because I have millions of doctor appointments.

I have worked in many different places and been on both sides of the job offer - extending and accepting. Seriously, if there are two people up for a position, and one has health issues which could be perceived to interfere with their ability to do their job in the future, who is getting the job? Yes we know this discrimination is illegal in the US but we also know it happens in subtle ways. There will probably always be a little subconscious doubt on their part - what if they get sick again???

I read this article which discusses women with breast cancer in the workplace. On one hand I agree - health care practitioners need to improve how they advise women on returning to work or taking time off. On the other hand, why is it anyone's business what has happened with your health. The article states:

"But it is clear that there are considerable differences in women's experiences of returning to work. Some positive working practices were reported, but other organizations were guilty of a culture of ignorance. Many of the negative experiences centered on the unrealistic expectations and inflexibility of some employers, lack of support from colleagues and mistaken assumptions about the woman's physical appearance."

So why were the told what is wrong so they could have these issues? If you get cancer, all your employer needs to know is that you need surgery and some on going treatment. You may need to take time off or a curtailed work schedule for a period of time. For all they know, you could be having knee surgery and need a week off from work and then allowances for PT three times a week. It is not their business.

Since my second diagnosis, I have been a bit more open about my health but if there was another cancer adventure in my life, I think I would selectively share the information.


Laura said...

Hi Caroline,
Great post! Returning to work after cancer can definitely be tough, but understanding your communication options can make the process much easier. A while back we did an article on the topic ( Maybe this can help some your readers as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences. - Laura Malamud, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

The Big C and Me said...

Great topic! This is precisely why people in the public eye downplay their illnesses and say they are "cured" (when we know there is no cure for cancer).

Thanks for blogging about this. It's smart to exercise a bit of caution when it comes to our health and employment opportunities.


Cancer treatment Florida said...

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