update: how do I tell my coworkers that I have incurable cancer and it’s progressing?

Remember the letter-writer wondering about how to tell her coworkers that she has incurable cancer? Here’s her update.

I was overwhelmed by all the supportive responses to my question, in addition to the sage advice offered. One AAM reader even sent me a gift card—that was incredibly sweet! My thanks and gratitude to all.

I followed the suggestion to email a select group with my news—most of us are remote workers—I included my current project managers and my boss. The answers were warm and accommodating, and my boss actually phoned me, our first conversation in the 4 months I’d been under him, within minutes of my sending the email! In addition to his assurances, we discussed coverage for my role at the company, and he indicated that this was the stimulus he had needed to look into setting up a long-term arrangement with some reputable contractors. So I am reassured to know that there is potential coverage if things get worse and I need time off.

Unfortunately, my cancer situation has not improved, but one thing about my particular version of the disease is that it’s been very slow in its progression. I am working on improving my general health practices, and am also trying to get my life in order—I would hate to leave my current financial and household arrangements for my loved ones to deal with! And the upcoming holiday season represents the winding down of my most pressing work projects, and the return of my young-adult offspring for some family time at home, so I have short-term pleasures to look forward to. Plus, the little jazz band I play in has had several informal gigs recently, which have added to the joy of life—probably the best medicine of all!

Again, I thank you, Alison, for taking my question, and I thank all you AAM readers for your very great kindness. I was particularly touched to know that there are other “working wounded” out there who are functioning in professional capacities while living with significant, even life-threatening, disease.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Zoe

    I just wanted to say that although I don’t know you, I’m thinking of you and wish you all the best, and so much love and happiness that you won’t know what to do with it all. :-)

  2. Mena

    Thank you for your update. It is generous of you to be concerned for your work and colleagues at such a time of personal pain, physical, emotional, and mental – I cannot imagine.
    Re-reading your original letter, I was reminded of my thought upon reading the original post. I’m very surprised that you’d never spoken with your manager by telephone before your notification email. This just strikes me odd that a manager would not interact more directly with a remote employee. (I’m glad the manager reached out immediately in response to your email but really, it should take such a situation to stimulate a conversation). I have a full-time contractor 3,000 miles away and we speak three times a week!
    I’m very sorry for the situation you are facing. My best thoughts to you.

    1. OP

      Just to explain my management situation, I had received this new manager last spring when my old one left the company. He is pretty high-level, and we are both remote (as is much of my company!), and I am pretty much self-directing, so he just hadn’t gotten around to ewstablishing contact. He’s been very supportive when I need him–it was just a weird situational thing.
      Many thanks for your caring!

  3. Lo

    More good thoughts headed your way, letter writer. Have a wonderful holiday season, and enjoy the time with your family.

    1. Mimmy

      I teared up reading the original letter and comments. Continuing to keep you in my thoughts – wishing you a peaceful holiday season.

  4. Annamaison

    Thanks so much for this, OP. Yours was the update I most wanted to see.
    Wishing you the very best.

  5. fposte

    I’m glad to hear it worked out, OP, and I wish you a holiday of good family times and excellent jazz.

  6. TAD

    I’m happy your manager and coworkers reacted so well to your news. Best wishes to you this holiday season.

  7. just passing through

    All the best to you, OP. That sums up my every wish for you.

    I would love if there were a way for you to check in every now and again.

  8. C Average

    Like many others here, I was hoping we’d get an update from you. Your outlook and attitude are so admirable. I hope your holidays are wonderful!

  9. John

    This update made my day. Sounds like your head is in a really good place. Enjoy your holidays with your family. Be well, OP.

  10. BTownGirl

    Sending you all the love and good vibes in the world and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  11. A Teacher

    Sending positive thoughts your way. Have a wonderful holiday with your family and fun playing with the band.

  12. Zillah

    Thank you so much for the update, OP. I’m sorry there’s been no improvement, but I’m glad that the conversation went well. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season; I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

  13. Whatever

    Glad to hear you have the coverage you need and that you are valuing the good graces you have. Wishing you the jazziest of Christmases — I hope it’s one for the books!

  14. Mathnet

    Hey, I’m so glad things are going well for you. It’s all about quality vs. quantity and how much you want to do. Nobody can make this decision for you and I’m so glad you’re getting things in order so you can decide. I hope that you have a long time left and thanks for updating. A great deal of life is truly perspective. I’m glad you have a good one.

  15. The Other Katie

    Thanks for the update, OP. Sending you good thoughts and I wish you a wonderful holiday season.

  16. Christine D

    This post came at a particularly poignant time for me. My coworker confided in me just last week that she’s been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Reading this will help me in my interactions with her, as I don’t want to seem too “in your face with compassion” nor too distant. I wish you the very best!! I hope you get to enjoy many more years with friends and family. Even if I’ve never met you, I’m thinking of you this holiday season.

    1. OP

      Oh dear, your co-worker is likely facing a long hard course of treatment–chemo, surgery, and radiation–she may sail through it, or she find herself unexpectedly worn down at some point. Your continuing understanding and support will be a great gift to her.

  17. AnotherHRPro

    You are in my thoughts and prayers. I am so glad that your colleagues have rallied around you. My mom and 2 friends at work are currently fighting cancer (2 are stage 4) and I am impressed daily with their strength. It is so hard to know what to do, what to say, how to support them. Words and minor acts seem so small, but I have learned that to the one on the receiving end it means the world.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  18. Dawn88

    I was beside my best GF of 32 years during her 2 rounds of breast cancer and her final brain cancer. She went through so much, and was so brave, I was in complete awe….She managed to return to work for years in between the long and difficult ordeal. Her big blue eyes and beautiful smile are in my memory forever. We worked together at two places 5 years each…

    Special people like this are truly inspirational. YOU are the epitome of honor and courage. Tears fall as I type.

  19. arintare

    You’re inspiring, OP. I’m dealing with severe depression while I try to get back to working normally – peanuts compared to what you’ve been doing. Thank you.

    I hope you have a joyful, jazzy holiday!

    As an aside, the word that comes to mind when I think of the first post is ‘dignity’.

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