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How to get work on your side when you have cancer

Joe Bakhmoutski


In a perfect world, you would not worry about your finances during cancer, but the reality is often that your livelihood during treatment and beyond is dependent on regular income.

Your workplace can easily become your home ground with your manager as your internal champion. When you are upfront and honest about how your cancer is impacting you, how can you help them handle your workload? How can you assists your colleagues to support you and how do you stop work from being on your worry list?


It starts with your immediate boss.

If you can, pull your manager aside for a coffee or a quiet chat, aim for an approach that change the usual routine of how you communicate about work on a daily basis. Be very direct and tell them the facts:

  1.  You have cancer and here is what’s going to happen next (tests, rough timeline of your treatment path, etc)
  2. Who might be able to cover for you and suggest arrangements that can be made to cause the least disruption when you’re away.
  3. What you need from your boss (time off for tests and treatment, working part time or from home). Think this through carefully ahead of time and be as specific as you can. Example –  “The doctor says I will need two months off for chemo, starting in two weeks time and I can then transition back in while I’m recovering by working from home for a few days every week”.

This way, you have gained their understanding by explaining where you are and what will happen.

You have now set the expectations around what you need from your boss in terms of support, and most importantly, you earned their goodwill because you have thought things through and offered a solution that will help them!

You make it easy for your boss if you both agree to a specific and reasonable approach and they will likely become your champion because you have shown a proactive attitude and spirit by considering how they might tackle your workload while you’re away. It may also help to get in touch with everyone you interact with at work, not just your immediate team.

It may also help to get in touch with everyone you interact with at work, not just your immediate team.

When your colleagues don’t know what you’re going through, they might be thrown off by you being unfocussed, or quiet, or angry.

To prevent people from jumping to their own conclusions, the best you can do is to set the record straight about cancer.

You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops – one email is all it takes.

Go through your email in the last week or two and your contact list, phone or instant messenger, to see if you missed anyone because there is usually a few people that aren't top of mind because you don’t see them daily.

Is there anyone outside of your immediate environment that you interact with, anyone you haven’t caught up with in a while due to circumstances? Here's is the email I sent my work mates:

Hi guys, As you may or may not know, recently I had a procedure to remove testicular cancer.

I will be starting chemo to get rid of it on Monday in the next week pending some tests.

It all looks positive but still a few rocky months ahead so don’t be surprised if I’m more weird than usual!

A huge thank you to Sam and Marty who will covering for me in my absence – please get in touch with them about all my projects.

Cheers, Joe

Joe and his son

An email to your workmates not only communicates what support you will need, but can also set the boundaries for what you are comfortable with: “Yes, I’m going away, but I don’t want to think about it just yet”.

You are not responsible for bringing about cancer so there is nothing to feel weird about.

The only awkward moments I had with people is when they found out from somebody else and didn’t know how to react afterwards.

Let’s be honest – at work, not everyone is a friend so I was genuinely taken aback by those who genuinely wished me well, irrespective of past rivalries or politics…

It sure does help to have your work and your team mates on your side, cheering you on – it gives you more strength to deal with cancer head on!

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