Sharing Your Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis at Work

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

When you were diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, you probably shared the news with your loved ones. Outside of your family and a close friend or two though, 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 info with a boss, or with colleagues? And what's the "right" amount of information to share? It can all feel a bit perplexing.

Middle age woman at work.
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Remember: It’s your choice

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

Doctor explaining information about metastatic melanoma to a patient.
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Arm yourself with the facts

You'll want to 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 see whether she anticipates you can continue working during treatment or whether you will need an extended leave of absence to give yourself time to recover during chemotherapy or after surgery.

Senior working from home.
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Think about what will make your job easier

In light of your convo with your doctor, consider any work-related changes or accommodations you may require 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. After arranging a time to speak with your boss, you may be need to discuss your needs with someone in the human resources department.

Gavel and legal books.
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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 role 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, while your job is held for you.

Man talking to his boss.
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Talking to your boss

Before disclosing your cancer diagnosis to your boss, you'll want to 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.

Woman writing discussions with coworkers down in a notebook.
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Keep track of your discussions

Between doctors, your insurance company, and now work, you're having lots of important conversations these days. Write down summaries of those 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 exchanges regarding your illness. Use a notebook to track the date, who you spoke to, and a summary. Save emails, particularly if your system deletes them after a certain number of days. This helps to prevent misunderstandings.

Coworkers having a one-on-one conversation outside.
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Telling coworkers

If you're nervous to share with colleagues, 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, talk to a few people at once, or ask your coworker to share the news. If you're going to be taking extended time off, adjusting your hours, or asking for accommodations, it's sometimes easier to let your coworkers know why rather than allowing curiosity, rumors, or resentment to breed.

Coworkers talking.
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Allow coworkers to ask questions

Your coworkers are probably concerned about your health, especially if you work in a small office or have a tight-knit "work family." 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. Assure them you'll keep them updated on your health. They're curious because they care, but you're entitly to some privacy, too.

Senior man asking his coworker for help.
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Be specific when asking for help

It's natural for workers to ask how they can help. Think about what would be helpful and let them know. Be specific. If you feel uncomfortable asking for help, you can tap a trusted coworker to be your spokesperson of sorts, sharing health updates and marshalling resources through an online tool. For instance, Lotsa Helping Hands can coordinate folks to provide meals, rides and more for friends (or colleagues) in need, lightening your load.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.