How can I deal with co-workers who avoid me or will not talk about my diagnosis or treatment?

Expert Answers

Cancer_and_Careers (Organization (Verified) ) - 10 / 13 / 2011

Hi there,

It would help to know a little bit more about the particulars of your workplace like was it close knit before you were diagnosed and so this treatment is different from how you related to them before, are the people you work with people you consider friends in the larger frame of your life, are these people who have either never been touched by cancer or been touched by cancer before, etc. In general, your options seem to me to be:

1) Try and sit down with your co-workers and prepare them for what’s coming up so they don’t start guessing the worst. Then focus the conversation on how you plan to cope and get work done, to alleviate any worries. Often, people will take their cues from you on how to handle the situation and if you seem to have it under control; your colleagues will react accordingly. This sit down might help you understand why they are treating you differently than before your cancer and make it easier to move forward with them. We have a bit of co-worker content on the site here: and this section is growing.

2) You could speak to your supervisor or HR about the situation with your co-workers and see if they have any thoughts on ways to improve the environment for you. Perhaps if it came from them it would be easier, of course the opposite is also possible.

3) You might also want to think about what it is you need from your co-workers and if it is possible to get it elsewhere and just have work be work, again this very much depends on answers to my earlier questions.

I know none of this is an exact solution, unfortunately there isn't a perfect answer for human nature. The best you can do is see if you can figure out what is causing their behavior and then decide if you have the energy/desire to work to alleviate the cause. Of course, if you feel there is something deeper going on and it verges on some sort of legal infringement then you might want to contact the Cancer Legal Resource Center to discuss your options (1-866-THE-CLRC).

Good luck!


Rebecca V Nellis
Director of Programs
Cancer and Careers
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