Sharing Your Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis at Work

Health Writer
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When you were first diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, you probably shared the news with your loved ones. Outside of your family, you might have a hard time talking about your cancer.  For example, what about the people at work? How do you share that sort of information with a boss, or with colleagues? Don’t they need to know? And what's the "right" amount of information to share?


Remember: It’s your choice

Of course, you're not required to tell anyone anything that you don't want to tell them about your illness. You have the right to share as much or as little information as you feel comfortable sharing with people you trust. If treatment is going to interfere with your ability to do your job, however, you do need to talk with your boss. How much you share is up to you.


Arm yourself with information

Talk to your doctor before talking to your employer. Find out what your treatment entails and how much time you will need off from work. Discuss your job with your boss to find out whether she believes you can continue doing the job during treatment or whether you will need an extended leave of absence to give yourself time to recover during chemotherapy or after surgery.


Think about what will make your job easier

Consider any work-related changes or accommodations you may need during treatment. Will you need time off? Will you need to adjust your schedule? Can you work from home? Before asking for accommodations, have a list in mind. You may need to discuss these directly with your boss or with someone in the human resources department.


Know the laws

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protect you at work. The ADA prevents discrimination, such as not getting a promotion because you have cancer, and permits reasonable accommodations to help you do your job while you’re sick. The FMLA lets you take up to 12 weeks leave in a 12-month period, in increments, in blocks of days or weeks, or all at once, depending on your needs.


Talking to your boss

Before disclosing your cancer diagnosis to your boss, ask to speak one-on-one. Have the talk in a private office, or arrive early one day to meet before others arrive. Be prepared to tell your boss if and how long you plan to continue working, whether you can perform all your duties, if you are asking for a modification of duties, whether you plan to share information with your coworkers, and how much time you will need to take off work for treatments.


Keep track of your discussions

Write down summaries of conversations you have with your boss and human resources. Most companies will do whatever they can to help you during your cancer treatment. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep a record of all conversations regarding your illness. Use a notebook to track the date, who you spoke to, and a summary of the conversation. This helps to prevent misunderstandings.


Telling coworkers

Start with a trusted coworker before making a general announcement. Decide beforehand what you want to say. If you want others to know, you can decide whether you want to tell them individually, tell a few people at once, or ask your coworker to share the news. If you are going to be taking extended time off, adjusting your hours, or asking for accommodations, it is sometimes easier to let your coworkers know why rather than allowing curiosity, rumors, or resentment to breed.


Allow coworkers to ask questions

Your coworkers are probably concerned about your health, especially if you work in a small office or with a tight-knit group of people. Take the time to explain your diagnosis, allow them to ask questions, but also let them know if you want to keep some details private, and be firm about that. Let them know you will keep them updated on your health.


Be specific when asking for help

A natural response when someone tells you bad news is to ask how you can help. Your coworkers may ask this as well. Think about what types of actions would be helpful and let them know. Be specific. An online tool like Lotsa Helping Hands can help volunteers coordinate and communicate with each other.