Family, friends and work colleagues and cancer

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be worried about whether other members of your family will also develop the disease.

Family history of some types of cancer – such as breast, bowel, prostate or ovarian cancer – can be important, but your diagnosis of cancer doesn’t mean that other members of your family will develop cancer. Even for cancer types where family history has a major role, most people will not develop that type of cancer, even if they have a close relative with that type of cancer.

Speak to your GP or other member of your treatment team about genetic counselling.

Friends and cancer

Friends are often an important part of your support network. You may have friends who have supported you throughout your cancer journey, or new friends you have made along the way.

During your treatment, friends who have not experienced cancer may have found it difficult to know what to say or how to help you. This may be the same once treatment is over. Telling friends when you feel down, and asking them for help when you feel tired or unwell can help them understand how they can support you better.

Some people say that they lose some of the support that has helped them through their cancer journey once treatment is over. Friends may not call as often because they think you’re now ‘back to normal’. Or they may say how well you’re looking when really you still don’t feel great. It’s important to keep sharing your feelings with the people who are close to you, including any fears or concerns you have. This will help you move forward at your own pace.

Work, colleagues and cancer

If you were employed, whether paid or voluntary, when you were diagnosed, you may have stopped work altogether or for a period of time during your treatment. Your decision about when to start work again will depend on your individual situation. You may find it helpful to return to work when treatment is over. Some people find that returning to work or a regular activity makes them feel valued and gives them the comfort of being around familiar people and situations.

Whether you stopped work altogether during your treatment or took periods of time off for treatment, you might wonder what to tell your colleagues when you return to work again.

If you’re returning to the same job, it’s likely that your manager or colleagues will be aware of the reason for your time off. However, this isn’t always the case.

You might want to consider the following questions when thinking about discussing your cancer experience at work:

  • Before your diagnosis, who would you have talked to about personal issues that have a bearing on your work?
  • Who needs to know about the possible effects of cancer treatment on your performance at work?
  • Who needs to know about your absence or potential absences?
  • If you took a low-key approach to letting other people know, rather than making a big deal about it, would this have a positive impact on your working relationships?
  • How might your colleagues be concerned about your health and performance, whether or not they know about your treatment for cancer?

Some people find that a diagnosis of cancer makes them rethink their work priorities. You may decide to try a different career path or change to part-time work. If you find you are still tired when treatment is over, talk to your employer or organisation about making your hours more flexible for a while. A discussion with your personnel manager or supervisor soon after you return to work will be useful in clarifying expectations.

Tips for returning to work after cancer

  • Think about who to tell about your work arrangements, and plan how you will tell them.
  • Give your work as much notice as possible if you need to take leave.
  • Explore options for part-time work or flexible hours.
  • Ask for leave before you feel tired or burnt out.
  • Keep records of your work hours and any discussions or correspondence with your supervisor or manager.

More information about returning to work after cancer

The Cancer Council NSW has developed a range of information and support products for employees, employers and workplaces.  See http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/cancer-information/for-workplaces-employers/ or call 13 11 20.