I exposed myself at work because my coworkers didn’t believe I had cancer

A reader writes:

I made a huge mistake and I am trying the best way to dig myself out of this mess.

In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery to remove that cancer and one breast in early 2019. My recovery went smoother than expected and I ended up just needing some follow-up care and check-ups. I wear a prosthesis at work and it makes me look no different in clothes than before the surgery.

At my office I answer to an immediate supervisor who is acting as a sort of project manager. I also have a departmental manager and an HR department. The manager and HR know about my surgeries. I have intermittent FMLA and they have all the proof and paperwork. They have never questioned the validity of my requests.

My immediate supervisor and some of my coworkers have been talking on and off about me for the last year. I sometimes hear what they are saying. I have also heard from other people that they are discussing the legitimacy of my FMLA and my cancer. I’ve had a coworker notice me out and about after a doctor’s appointment and will later find out they reported to my immediate supervisor that I seemed fine. I can stop by the grocery store after a follow-up visit because drawing blood and the test they run don’t often hurt.

I recently told my supervisor I may have to have surgery again to clean up my scars and chest. His response was, “Oh right, the cancer thing again.”

I think a huge part of the issue is that another coworker was diagnosed with breast cancer immediately after mine and isn’t recovering as quickly as me. She is much more of the cancer patient you expect: chemo, hair loss, multiple surgeries, etc. I didn’t experience any of that. They started fundraising for her at work and I didn’t donate because I am still trying to cover my own copays.

Very recently on a particularly hard day, I heard a few coworkers discussing me again. They were implying that I didn’t have cancer and saying that it was strange that I seemed fine. Some of these coworkers did have to cover me while I recovered from my surgery so I understand them being upset that someone may be faking it. This isn’t the first time I’ve overheard conversations concerning my “faking it.”

I got tired of listening to their snickering so I went into the office where they were and I lifted my shirt, exposing the scars on my chest. I then told them to go blank themselves and returned to my office.

I don’t have nipples and no breast on one side. I only showed my scars and my flat side. No breast was shown. It doesn’t make it any better, I know. I just wanted to paint the picture of what happened.

I went back to my desk after and didn’t say anything to them. I left at my usual time that day, which was a Friday. I heard nothing of it all weekend and returned Monday to continued silence about it. It has been a couple of weeks and no one has said anything.

I’d like to approach HR and/or my manager to discuss this, but I am worried about the right way to approach it. I need this job for the insurance.

A lot of the advice I have gotten is to just keep my mouth shut, but I wonder if that is just bad internet advice. I know HR is there to protect the company. I should have gone to them or my manager sooner but I had missed so much time. I feel like I had already requested a few favors from them. I was hoping my supervisor and coworkers would find a new hobby or if I ignored it would die down. I figured maybe I just had to grow a thick skin.

I can’t un-show my scars or go back in time and tell HR or my manager the first time I heard people talking, which would be the ideal thing.You can’t uncook a goose, right? Is there any possible way to make this right now? Do I go to HR or manager now? Do I apologize to my supervisor and coworkers? Do I resign and move far, far away?

You have nothing — NOTHING — to apologize about.

Your coworkers and your supervisor have been subjecting you to a campaign of harassment over a medical issue, and your company has an obligation to ensure that doesn’t happen. The Americans with Disabilities Act is very clear that employees cannot be subject to disability-related harassment (and cancer generally is considered a disability under the ADA). What your colleagues have been doing violates the law.

After months of harassment and abuse while fighting cancer, you lost your cool and lifted your shirt to demonstrate that yes, indeed you had cancer. You’re didn’t flash anyone — you didn’t show a breast or genitalia. You showed surgical scars.

It is very, very, very unlikely that this is something you will get in trouble for. Your actions weren’t obscene, and they were both provoked and understandable. I’m not saying that just to reassure you or out of a sense of outrage at your coworkers’ actions (although I do feel outraged); it’s really true that you’re not likely to suffer serious consequences for this. Even if your company was unhappy about how you reacted (and I don’t think they will be), they’re going to be way more concerned about the legal claim you could have against them for how your colleagues have acted. Truly, it’s incredibly unlikely that you are going to be disciplined for this. You don’t need to feel guilty or fearful.

The people who should be worried about getting in trouble are your colleagues who have been opening the company to legal liability by creating a hostile workplace for you (in both the legal and the colloquial sense).

I suspect the silence about this in the last few weeks reflects that. Your colleagues feel foolish and perhaps scared of the consequences to themselves. Good, let them. They should.

And yes, you should definitely talk with HR and your manager! Not to confess what you did, although you can certainly mention that in the context of how you finally shut this down if you want to. But mainly you need to tell them about the harassment you’ve been experiencing, and ask them to ensure it stops. They have a legal obligation to do that and certainly an ethical one. (And if you’re worried they’ll wonder why you didn’t report it earlier — it’s really common for people not to report until something has happened over and over. People hope it’ll go away, or don’t want to cause waves, or aren’t sure how to handle it. It’s completely understandable that you didn’t report it the first time, and that shouldn’t cause them to take it less seriously now.)

Your colleagues are awful. You did nothing wrong. Please stop living in fear over this, and go talk to HR and get this shut down once and for all.

{ 463 comments… read them below }

      1. Working Mom*

        Yes, so much respect for you, OP. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with these completely terrible people at work. I also wanted to share, like Alison said, don’t think of it as exposing yourself – like she said, you didn’t flash them. You showed them your scar. I once had a peer at work ask to see a scar on my stomach (a very old scar and it was in conversation about related surgeries) and I lifted my shirt to show the scare on my abdomen. It’s the same thing. Don’t feel like you did something indecent, because you did not.

        1. Candi*

          I’m kind of cheesed off: “people respond differently to sickness” leads to the very short logical step “people respond differently to cancer” -yet these vicious wastes of space were so busy soaking in their own maliciousness that “your response to cancer isn’t the same as her response to cancer” was considered a reasonable argument to say LW was lying. >:( You don’t even need to know the difference between a benign or malignant tumor, or that there are a couple hundred (at least) different kinds of cancers to figure that out.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            Sick shaming is so prevalent (at least in the United States) that most people only have two mental models — you’re dying (and you look like you’re dying, or it’s a lie), or you’re perfectly healthy and fine. No in between. It’s beyond damaging. You have nothing to apologize for.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Same goes for everybody’s response to cancer treatments. Some chemotherapy combinations make people lose their hair. Some make people really weak or really nauseated. But they don’t all have the exact same side effects for every person. But the fact that a person isn’t experiencing severe side effects from their cancer treatments doesn’t mean they don’t have cancer, or that the cancer they have isn’t serious. As a cancer survivor myself, I’m livid on OP’s behalf.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Yup. My aunt used to be on a dragonboat team for people who had or had survived breast cancer. Sometimes the team captain would give a rousing speech on the order of, “We made it through chemo, we can make it through this!” My aunt had not needed chemotherapy, just surgery, and she felt strangely invalidated (no pun intended) by this, like she hadn’t “really” had cancer because she hadn’t suffered in that particular way.

              1. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

                Hey, I’ve also had this experience. I was at a support group, and one person was complaining that a person that didn’t go through chemo didn’t have real cancer. Me and a couple other people in the group didn’t have chemo, but it did feel really invalidating. That’s when I learned I couldn’t depend on cancer support groups for support with my type of breast cancer.

                1. DerJungerLudendorff*

                  For the love of… They’re gatekeeping cancer support groups because some people should be suffering harder from their cancer?

            2. Darn The Man*

              My grandmother was diagnosed with – and went through treatment for – lung cancer when she was in her early 80s. Outside of being a little more tired and a loss of appetite, you never would have known.

            3. many bells down*

              I completely lost my sense of taste for a month after having radioactive iodine for thyroid cancer. That was it. The only side effect I had.

              1. MangoAngel*

                I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a few weeks ago after a thyroidectomy, and will be starting radioactive iodine after I fully heal from the surgery. Your post makes me less nervous about it, as I’ve been seriously stressing over what the RAI may cause. So thank you for that! :)

            4. Relly*

              My dad had surgery, then several months of shots and pills. Minimal side effects, and none that his co-workers would be able to spot.

              If someone tried to say he didn’t really have cancer, I would punch them.

          3. StrikingFalcon*

            You see this in other illnesses too. “You don’t LOOK sick.” “You’re two young to have so many heath problems.” “If you just [do random useless thing] it will cure your [serious illness].” “If she only [prayed the right way / followed the diet I do / otherwise subscribed to my fad/religion/cult] she would be cured.” “Just wait until you’re old like me, then you’ll know what pain really is!” “You’re just faking because you want [attention / perks you don’t deserve / etc. ]!”

            I think there’s a whole bunch of reasons behind it. There are people who genuinely believe that everyone who doesn’t look like they are dying (or isn’t performing their illness the “right” way, like by losing their hair to chemo) is faking it, and resents them for getting one over on other people. They’d be sympathetic towards people who do “look” ill by their narrow definitions, but they consider themselves the disability police or something, like it’s their job to catch fakers.

            Then there are people who want to believe that they know the secret that will prevent anything bad from happening to them, and project that false belief all over the people who aren’t healthy.

            And then there are people who just lack empathy and think their problems (or the problems of someone who is more important to them) must be the worst, like it’s some kind of contest or something, and only one person’s pain can be bad enough to complain about.

            I find it all pretty bizarre. I’m sorry you’re working with people like this, OP. You did nothing wrong, and you deserve to have HR and your manager looped in so they have your back on this.

            1. Candi*

              “Your normal is not my normal, and that’s okay.”

              “Your illness is not my illness, and that’s okay too.”

              1. Public Facing Librarian*

                Good news,when you make it to 60 and let your hair go grey that won’t happen anymore.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Well, neither of my parents have really gone particularly gray even though they’re in their 60’s, and making it there is more of a solid if for me anyways.

              2. Candi*

                PHYSICALLY TAKE IT FROM YOU!!?!?

                That’s stealing from you, regardless of what their stupid bias is.

                *Virtual smacks for slimy thieves.*

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  I’ve also been physically removed from disability seating. For some reason, having a cane (and probably being <100lbs and female-presenting) seems to be a big, shiny sign that says "physically harass this cripple" to the ableds.

                2. WindyLindy*

                  I’m so sorry that happens to you! I’m also a young woman who uses a cane (sometimes when my condition is worse), and I’ve generally found people are much more courteous when I use my cane- giving me space, disability seating, etc. When I don’t have my cane, people get much more irritated and pushy around me, like I “must be ablebodied and should be able to move like anyone else.”

                1. DerJungerLudendorff*

                  It’s what a lot of old-time canes were good for!
                  A nice heavy knob on the end and it becomes a pretty good club to bash rapscallions with.

                2. Candi*

                  “When people are worried you have a sword they forget you definitely have a club.” -paraphrased from Vetinari, about his ebony cane.

              3. Mel*

                what the!!!! I hope the people assaulting you and stealing your cane have had the law or at least a good public shaming come down on them. Goodness.

              4. ArtsNerd*

                I find the ‘you’re too young’ comments enraging enough. What in the ever living flying fuck at removing your cane or denying you accessible seating. I’m so angry on your behalf.

        2. Hodie-Hi*

          I’ve had a bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. I’ve decided that I will show my chest and tell anyone who deserves it to F#@< off. Anywhere, anytime, no regrets. It's been a few years, and thankfully has not been necessary.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Me, too.

      Probably the reason nobody’s said anything since is because they are *ashamed*. Feeling shame is a perfectly natural reaction to doing something shameful, but it’s also very unpleasant. So they’re probably stewing in their very own shame stew, as well they should.

      It’s even possible that all of them or at least some of them – probably the worst offenders – aren’t even discussing it with each other. Shame doesn’t really get better if you share it. The only way it gets better is if you either confront yourself about it and vow to do better or forget about it.

      1. Sparrow*

        Yeah, I’d be surprised if any of them ever say anything to HR because they’d have to expose their own actions and they KNOW they were in the wrong. I can only hope that this shame will teach them a lesson and will deter them from ever speculating or talking about someone like this again.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Yeah, the co-workers here are in the unenviable position of having to defend the position of “I should have the right to repeatedly harass a colleague about their medical condition without negative consequences, even though there are specific laws against exactly this kind of behavior.” Quite the rhetorical painted-in corner, that one.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            +100. Seriously, how on earth would they “report” OP to HR (for simply showing them a scar)?

            1. Candi*

              “She showed us her chest!”

              “What were the circumstances?”

              “Well, um….” (hurriedly leaves)

              (Calls LW in and asks what happened.)

              (Calls jerks in) “Do you have ANY idea of the trouble you put this company in!?”

              (Cause it is trouble -it just hasn’t hit the fan.)

      2. LunaLena*

        OP, did these people know you could hear them? If they assumed you could not, then they have double the reason for feeling ashamed – in addition to what KayDeeAye said, they probably thought they were harmlessly gossiping (“if she doesn’t know, she can’t be hurt by it, right?”) and found out they were wrong about that too. So they have ALL the reasons to keep quiet, and it’s because they were caught being horrible and mean, not because you did anything wrong.

        Best of luck to you with your treatments!

        1. animaniactoo*

          Hmmm. I would bet money that they intended to be overheard at some points. They made it really clear that they don’t believe her, and I’d bet they want her to KNOW they don’t believe her.

      3. juliebulie*

        Well, I think apologizing might help them feel better, too. I’m stunned that apparently not even one of them has apologized to OP. That says a lot about them (not that the initial behavior didn’t say enough).

        1. KayDeeAye*

          It would probably help them (and maaaaaybe the OP, too), so long as they did so sincerely and without attempting any justification. I say “attempting” because of course there is no true justification. But in order to apologize, you have to take the uncomfortable step of admitting to yourself that you did something awful. And that’s not easy to do.

          And yes, I agree that ZERO attempt to apologize says a lot about them, and none of it is good. Still, they will remember this feeling, and maybe it might make them a little less awful the next time they are feeling ready to start judging people for no good reason.

          1. Lucy the Lucy*

            Will they remember that feeling though? It’s kind of you to say that, but some people simply don’t learn. I think the lack of apology signals a lack of empathy. I’m betting the guilty parties have just taken their cackling outside of the work place. Maybe they are simply sinking into their shame spiral, but … maybe not.

            And OP? Well done. You showed remarkable restraint. The behaviour of your colleagues is deplorable.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              The lack of apology could indeed signal a lack of empathy. But it could signal shame, too. It’s impossible to tell from what we have here.

              Will they remember? Maybe. A big dose of shame is pretty hard to forget, though certainly some people manage it. It’s not uncommon to feel shame for years, even sometimes when the person hasn’t actually done anything they should feel ashamed about. So when you do something as outrageous as these people…yeah, I think the chances are at least decent that some of them will remember, even if they’d rather not.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I am too! You’re a goddamn warrior and I like to think I would have done the same thing. Go to HR and follow Alison’s advice.
      I hope your future procedures go smoothly. Please come back to give us an update.

      1. Classic Rando*

        Yeah, she’s kinda my new hero.

        And in the same shoes, I may have taken the prosthesis out and thrown it at them, so just showing the scar is definitely a restrained response, very impressive indeed!

        1. 'Tis Me*

          But asking for your boob back after throwing it at a colleague would probably feel a bit awkward

    3. BT*

      Same, I stand in awe! OP, maybe also consult a lawyer so you can go to HR and tell them you’ve spoken to one, and they will feel pressure to ACT and rectify this situation. I understand if that feels too adversarial though.

    4. Erin*

      Yes. Queen. She is my hero. (Seems safe to assume she, but if he, I apologize! You rock in any case!)

      1. Candi*

        I’m assuming “she”, on the calculation that if LW was “he”, the backstabbing would have been worse.

        A lot of people believe men can’t get breast cancer… and men die of it in ridiculous numbers due to that and the patriarchal nonsense that “real men” don’t need help and should power through illness and injury. (I swear that if the cultural scales ever get balanced, the number of Darwin Awards nominees will be cut in half, at least.)

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          Yepp, two students in my graduating class at school were diagnosed with breast cancer before our final exams (Abitur). One was male.

          Both were 19…

          Fuck cancer.

        2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I’d assume “she” as well, on the basis that a man exposing his chest wouldn’t be considered flashing.

          (In the early 90’s it would have been considered a Diet Coke ad!)

          I want to add my tuppen’orth that OP deserves all the internet accolades possible. You are a star, OP. Don’t let anyone (on the internet or off) tell you otherwise.

        3. Zennish*

          There is a horribly toxic cultural myth in the United States about “the rugged individual” that has been a subconscious part of our social indoctrination since the country was founded. Thankfully, it seems to be less prevalent among the younger generations, but you still have this overall social narrative that you prove your strength and worth by sucking it up, walking it off, going it alone, etc. It’s why we’ve developed into such a compassion deficient society.

    5. Important Moi*

      I’m just offering sympathy, good wishes and continued health.

      Dysfunctional work places will have you wondering if left is right and up is down.

    6. WDCZombie*

      I am in awe and respect what you did SO much, OP. And I’m very sorry that you had to get to that point in the first place. I hope you are doing okay today.

      1. Jadelyn*

        This is one of the best statements of support I’ve ever read and I am delighted by it.

    7. Coffee Bean*

      I completely agree with Alison. You are 100% not in the wrong here. I think you are brave to do what you did. Shame on your coworkers. I hope you find solace in Alison’s response and in all of the comments that are in support of you.

    8. PJ*

      YES, this, all of this. You have no reason to be ashamed of your behavior – it’s your coworkers and supervisor who are HORRIBLE PEOPLE.

    9. Beth*

      Everything Allison said. I know you need the insurance, but if at all possible I would look for another job with benefits as this harassment can’t be good for your health. People should be ashamed , but we live in a shameless society these days and this is the proof.

    10. Celeste*

      What I can’t get over in addition to the original harassment is that after your reveal NOBODY APOLOGIZED TO YOU. What the actual EFF.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      They absolutely do – they’re complete TRASH.

      OP, please go to HR and report everyone for their harassment. Heads need to roll for this.

      Good luck to you, and I hope you continue to have a smooth recovery.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Amoebas on fleas actually perform a service to the environment. These people are more like the discarded condom in the sewer.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        And that the manager was in on the shaming/harassment…..! o_O

        Proof that one clown does not run a circus.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          The supervisor, not the actual manager. Actual manager and HR are ok.

          Yes, all the snickering people suck. But they probably haven’t been trained on the legal issues involved. They’re being quiet because of their totally earned shame, not because they’re worried about the company / their jobs.

          Good luck to you, OP, and agree, what you did was no big deal compared to what you faced.

          1. ShortT*

            Since when is being trained on pertinent legal issues a prerequisite for not being an @******?

            1. Jennifer*

              Exactly. Kindergartners are taught to be kind and not make fun of people for being different. Preschoolers even!

      2. MissDisplaced*

        I’m not sure if ‘heads need to roll’ but these people need to be taken to task and re-educated on what FMLA and ADA mean in the workplace. As well as learning to mind their own business! They better hope they never get sick themselves and have to go through cancer treatment.

        I sometimes wonder what the hell is wrong with people?

        Granted, there have been cases where people have faked serious illnesses for themselves or their kids to get sympathy or money. Some have even posted about it here on AAM. But I’m sure there was no reason for anyone at the OP’s office to think or suspect anything of the sort given OP had already gone through HR for the FMLA leave. What a bunch of sucky people.

        1. LKW*

          I’d say FMLA and ADA are important but almost inconsequential compared to exhibiting basic respect for one’s co-workers.

        2. Impy*

          And this is exactly why, when people get an anonymous phone call or feel suspicious, they should keep it to themselves. It is *so* much more likely that you will be insulting someone with a real illness.

        3. Candi*

          “what the hell is wrong with people?”

          Humans are capable of going to very dark, slimy places -and too many don’t bother to resist the trip, even as it turns into a slide.

      3. Veronica Mars*

        Can we have a new ‘contest’ for worst coworkers of the year?

        Because, seriously, the fact that they haven’t all come up and prostrated themselves in front of you with apologies yet (or that they questioned you at all) is just… too gross for words.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I always say: “What goes out comes back threefold.”
      Someday they may get sick themselves and think about how horribly they treated someone.

        1. nonegiven*

          The Rule of Three (also Three-fold Law or Law of Return) is a religious tenet held by some Wiccans/Pagans and occultists. It states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. Some subscribe to a variant of this law in which return is not necessarily threefold. –wikipedia

          1. Candi*

            I’ve heard about the energy out/energy return as a reason for karma.

            I’ve also heard of karma as the result of chasing people away due to (general) your negative actions, so no one’s there to pick you up when you fall. People who are positive tend to have lots of people there to catch them in most circumstances.

            YMMV either way.

  1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    Also, you’re not the person who has done anything wrong. They were harassing you, and it’s in the company’s interests (assuming they have a competent HR team) for harassment to stop.

    1. Candi*

      OT: I was off the site for several months due to college keeping me busy… so I don’t know what the “cheap rolls” joke is about. Reference, please? :)

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        It refers to #2 at the link I’ll post below, the LW wildly overreacted to non-events that took place at a potluck.

        1. Candi*

          Thanks muchly!

          Wow, they sound so offended. The cheap rolls weren’t put there AT them.

          And Hawaiian rolls aren’t that expensive, either. I used to buy them all the time until my digestive system said, “I don’t like this or any prepackaged rolls.” (But cheap prepackaged bread is fine for some reason.)

    2. CollegeSupervisor*

      Haha, I just found your comment on that post saying you were considering changing your comment name to cheap ass rolls. I like the compromise!

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        So you think cheap ass rolls are better!AAd??!! You punk ass rolls are better than her rolls? You think this is a game?!!!

  2. Environmental Compliance*

    Oh, OP. I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. I’m impressed that’s *all* you did, honestly, because they are awful, awful people.

    Go to HR. Don’t worry about it. Have all of my internet hugs and good thoughts.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      Exactly. The more of this letter I read, the more watery my eyes were getting. I’d like to give the OP a hug (if wanted).

  3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    This letter is giving me heavy déjà vu – how can this be a frequent occurrence?!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Could be! The OP said this to me as a prelude to her letter (I generally trim out stuff before the substance of the letter begins): “A friend pointed me towards askamanager.org and suggested you may be able to offer some advice. I actually posted this to another website. I got a lot of advice but I am scared none of it was correct or all that useful. At the time I was mostly seeking legal advice related to if I would be arrested for incident exposure. Now I’d love to rescue my job if possible.”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yup! I remember reading it and was able to find it on legal advice. Which, they couldn’t really give her much since it wasn’t a legal issue.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            I mean, if it’s an ADA issue it is sort of a legal issue. Hostile Work Environment falls under employment law.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              I just went to the sub and sorted by top posts for the last month. It’s #2 right now.

        2. RUKiddingMeeds to disabuse*

          I hope the OP understands that showing a scar, and in fact even actual breasts is not “indecent.”

          I know there are “boob laws” but they seem to keep getting shot down in court because they are sexist.

          Certainly however showing a scar is in no way indecent, even if it’s located where a breast used to be.

        3. Natasha Worfolk*

          Definitely was posted on AITA on reddit, but that doesn’t really address the professional side of the issue, more of “were you morally in the right to do this” sort of thing.

        4. FormerFirstTimer*

          I feel so bad that OP feels she needs to rescue her job, she did nothing wrong.

        1. Ladybird*

          Me too. I was like, wait, didn’t Alison already answer this?! Where have I read this before??

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I read it as “I asked a few of my internet friends”, but now I see how it means “27k people upvoted this on Reddit”.

      2. HotSauce*

        Yes! I remember reading this a couple of days or weeks ago. I was so appalled by her coworker’s behavior. Really her employer should be nervous that OP will have legal standing against them for workplace harassment/hostile environment. Medical issues can have different symptoms for different people. People should remember that when it comes to anything health related the only thing they should be asking their coworkers is if they can help in any way or refrain from speaking about it at all.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Right? I thought maybe this was a reprint with an update from the last OP who was bullied about her mastectomy, but nope. Just more trash people at another location *sigh.*

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        Yup. It’s only March and this supervisor is already trying to horn in on the Worst Boss race.

      2. Heidi*

        It’s really sad. I think one of the things I’ve learned from reading this column is that problems are rarely unique to one particular workplace. Even the super bizarre-sounding stuff is probably going on somewhere else in the world.

        1. CaliUKExpat*

          Although Liver Boss still seems to be in a league unto himself… and hopefully will stay wearing that Asshat Crown all on his lonesome, forever

      3. New Job So Much Better*

        Also thought it was a re-run! Hard to believe this would happen more than one place.

      4. starlight*

        The thing about mastectomy is that its so tied into sexualization of breasts and people who think it’s more important to save the breasts than the person.

        In my case, I had to justify my decision to my boss to get a mastectomy before he’d allow me any sick time so I could have the surgery. It was pretty horrible. And I think if I’d had a different kind of cancer (other than ovarian/uterine, which would come under the same “don’t trust people to make choices for their own bodies” assholetry) that he’d have reacted the same way. But you know, gotta save the boobies.

        1. Paulina*

          WTF. Your boss wouldn’t approve sick time unless he agreed with your treatment decisions? I’m silently screaming on your behalf.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          That is HORRIFYING. If your boss isn’t your doctor, he should have no say whatsoever in any medical treatment decision ever, and the fact he thinks he does makes him a terrible human being.

      5. Paulina*

        The previous poster was bullied for looking obviously post-mastectomy, while this one is being bullied because she doesn’t look post-mastectomy enough. I guess there’s some “must look sick but also pretty” ideal, ugh. Can’t win, so screw ’em.

      1. Hornswoggler*

        Yes, I saw it there, as I was going to suggest she post it here, but I saw that someone else had already done so.

      2. DataGirl*

        I think maybe r/AITA too- I don’t usually read r/legaladvice but I definitely read this letter before. I’m glad she wrote in to AAM.

          1. Mel*

            oh hoh, small internet. I just discovered your twitter. Cannot believe some of the situations people are finding themselves in, as if the wilds of AAM weren’t enough!

    2. Chris*

      I went through this too but with a supervisor that was not mine. She was always very concerned where I was weekly while I was in the doctor’s office having my chest stretched for reconstruction. I finally said to her one day in passing what was going on with me. She never said a word again. I should have never had to even explain myself but I was extremly angry at her actions. My supervisor was extremely supportive thankfully and had my back when it came to her.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Were I your supervisor, one of the things I would have wanted to do in order to have your back is to have been alerted to the concern, so I could go sit in her office and say, “I want you to back off here. This is my employee, and her schedule is none of your concern. You making these comments and inquiring is insulting to her, but it is also insulting to me. I am the manager in this situation, not you.”

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Thanks all for validating my familiarity! It’s great when people seek different types of advice from different groups – and even better when the underlying consensus doesn’t vary (“they very much suck”).

  4. Audrey Puffins*

    Your co-workers are the WORST. Sending you all my support, and hoping that their nonsense stops here, or at least that your manager and HR can sit on them QUICKLY if they start acting up again.

    1. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

      Hoy crap, OP! Those are some nasty coworkers you have! The silence is because they realized how awful they are. Cancer and its treatment is different in every person and they should’ve known better. Do not feel guilty, with everything you are going through, you did what you had to do to get some peace. If anybody should apologize is your coworkers for pushing like this. All the best to you, OP!

      1. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

        Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to be a reply :( I don’t know why it keeps happening :(

        1. valentine*

          Cancer and its treatment is different in every person and they should’ve known better.
          They’re essentially mad the treatment worked!

          1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

            Right! They’re getting bent out of shape and gossiping because — what, the OP didn’t suffer enough? Monstrous.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Disabled and ill people must perform a certain quotient of misery, or else how would the healthy ableds feel good about themselves?

              1. Impy*

                And if the misery is inconsistent, if the person gets even occasional relief, then they are obviously a lying liar who isn’t really ill!

                1. starsaphire*

                  This, absolutely, as proved by every letter we’ve seen here about “my co-worker saw me at Aldi picking up my prescriptions and told the rest of the office I was malingering.”

                  A good day =/= proof of faking a chronic illness.

          2. Tupac Coachella*

            I KNOW, right? If I had two coworkers battling cancer and one was doing better than the other, my only “gossip” about it would be “I’m so glad OP is responding well to treatment, I hope Other Coworker’s condition improves, too.” Signed, someone watching a loved one have good days and bad days. F**k cancer.

      1. Okie Dokie*

        Same! I was cheering for you and feeling all excited when I got to the part about what you did. It was deserved and perfect. I think you rock and it was a victorious moment for you!

  5. Murphy*

    Your co-workers put you in a really shitty position, and I don’t think you did anything wrong. They really should go blank themselves.

  6. Not usual name*

    I know how disgusting people can be when your cancer doesn’t appear the way they are used to. Instead of being thankful yours was able to be managed without radiation they question validity and downplay the emotional and mental labor you are coping with post surgical removal. (Note it’s never appropriate to say its just a breast.)

    You did nothing wrong! Nothing!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, this makes me SO ANGRY. Just because you don’t *appear* to be sick, you must be faking? These are the same kinds of people who probably also would think that if you did *appear* to be sick you must be playing it up for sympathy, or a whiner.

      That’s some ableist BS right there. “Jane doesn’t look like she’s in pain all the time so she must be faking.”

      Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m incensed.

      1. Leisel*

        It really is infuriating. Not all illnesses affect people the same way. Not all disabilities affect people the same way. Recovery from anything, even a broken bone, will be different for every person. Just give someone the benefit of the doubt, for crying out loud.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes! Or like the people who need wheelchairs sometimes or for longer distances but other times are able to walk on their own or aided with a cane or crutches or whatever, and then some people say they’re faking because I guess if you don’t need a wheelchair 24/7 you don’t need one ever. ARGH.

          1. Candi*

            You just described my stepmom. Fibromyalgia and a mess of other conditions, with a medical history that rivals the Oxford dictionary for weight (she carries the last FIVE YEARS worth with her to be able to hand to ER staff if necessary) and part of all that is she varies between a cane, a walker, and a wheelchair.

            Dad thinks she doesn’t like to use the wheelchair due to pride, but I’d guess part of it is ableist jerks. (Not going to ask, I don’t want to upset her.) My mentioning the possibility to Dad got, “Oh, people know better than that.” Okay, whatever.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              I hate using my cane because of the reactions I get. I probably am going to avoid the wheelchair until I start reaching the “saving steps to use the bathroom unassisted” threshold because I can’t bear the idea of people escalating.

        2. pancakes*

          Exactly, and the people who are behaving obnoxiously do not have a handle on their own knowledge / lack of about illness. Not only do they not know these important basic facts, they apparently have no idea how far they are from where they need to be to function as a decent person and co-worker.

      2. JM in England*

        In a similar vein, the harassers have probably never heard of invisible disabilities…….

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Oh, these people would have a field day with me. I have IBS and some other as yet undiagnosed chronic conditions that have been doing a number on my body for years – but I’m lean with a slight athletic build, so no one can believe it when I tell them I’m unwell. I look healthy, so I must be exaggerating.

          Also, I can go years at a time with no issues at all – this was the case for me back in 2014. As soon as I left a toxic job, which I thought was making me sick in the first place (turns out, that probably wasn’t the case and I would have gotten sick anyway), I was fine for the first two years in my better environment. Then my body started falling apart again. I had to go on intermittent FMLA, and now I work from home full time because I just couldn’t keep commuting to work every day when my bladder and bowels were unpredictable. Some days I feel absolutely great, and then others are a mess and I’m in and out of the bathroom all day – and through it all, I still look fit and put together.

          They would think I was lying my ass off, lol.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I knew someone who did this to a colleague. The woman was going to chemotherapy early in the morning before work every Friday; she’d come into work shaky and pale and damp (I think she showered after; I don’t think it was sweat), and over the course of the morning she’d “settle.” And then seemed fine.

        Someone who actually worked for her thought it wasn’t a real illness, because HER sister-in-law wasn’t able to work at all while she was sick. And went to chemotherapy more often.

        I was like, “wait, you SEE what she’s like in the morning on Fridays; how else do you think she’d get that way?” This was before FMLA, and the woman didn’t even miss work, really; she came in a little late, maybe.

      4. ShortT*

        I’ll never forget how someone I used to consider a friend reacted after I returned home from an abdominal myomectomy. I wasn’t allowed to lift more than ten pounds for a little more than a month. Two days after the surgery, I returned home. The day after my return home, she saw me at the grocery store and commented that my prior condition couldn’t have been that serious and asked if I could help her with something at home.

        It makes me rage that someone would have to put on a Broadway-worthy performance, in order to be treated with a modicum of respect.

        You responded my ch more tactfully to those clowns than I would have.

        1. Candi*

          What did she want? For you to lean on the cart, making it bear your weight while you groaned every step of the way? Or be so looped out on pain meds you couldn’t tell the beans from the broccoli?

          Medicine has been working to mitigate that for years now. It’s no longer the ’50s where they had to split you open like a chicken to get at stuff -but even with microtools, you still have to be careful not to damage the repairs!

          1. Darn The Man*

            My cousin just had hip replacement surgery and she said the doctors had her up and walking a few hours after the surgery. Granted she wasn’t supposed to walk very far (and she did use a cane for the first few weeks) but still!

            1. Candi*

              Part of that is to try and avoid blood clots, and the associated circulation of said clots from legs to lungs, heart, and brain. Another part is to avoid muscle weakness from lack of exercise.

              They still need to be careful.

    2. Threeve*

      I think other people’s injury/illness truly brings out the worst in some people. Maybe they want to scoff at what others are going through out of a subconscious fear of something similar happening to them. Maybe some people resent even small amounts of “special treatment,” no matter how undeniably justifiable it is.

      I have an immunocompromised coworker who is discussing telework with HR if Covid-19 starts becoming more of a problem in our area, and telework isn’t really a thing in our office. And oh my God people are being just horrendous about it behind his back, speculating whether he’s a hypochondriac or just taking advantage of situation to get out of work. It’s awful.

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        On the flip side, since Covid-19 a lot of employers have immediately moved to change their WFH policies, despite the fact that disabled (or sick/injured) employees have been told it’s “impossible” for ages.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          My mom’s company is one. They’re an old school life insurance company that’s way behind in current office norms (like, they still require women to wear pantyhose if you’re wearing a dress or skirt to work), and even their managers have been asking what employees would like to work remotely should this virus become more prevalent in our area. They’re ordering laptops and testing VPN connections.

        2. Quill*

          Seems like the overwhelming conclusion is that businesses will resist becoming more accessable unless they face huge financial losses by not doing so.

          1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            And/or massively bad PR (which of course will eventually come to the same thing, but I’m pointing it out in case short-sighted execs are reading this). Pretty sure Biogen isn’t coming up in Google results the way the Biogen execs would prefer.

        3. Arya Snark*

          H1N1 caused my company to send me home for almost 2 months because I was deemed too critical to get sick and the WFH policy was MUCH more lenient after that. It went from not being an option because I didn’t need a laptop since I rarely traveled to being allowed to do it regularly once that virus died down and eventually to almost full time WFH.

          1. Candi*

            I find evil delight in, once a company allows something it “just couldn’t” to cope with actual or potential emergencies, they then find it very hard to get that genie back in the lamp. >:)

        4. bluephone*

          This makes me so mad because my company is already set up for WFH on an ad-hoc basis (we all use laptops, we’re all encouraged to WFH during bad weather days, etc), my team (and many others) could legitimately do 100 percent of our job remotely all the time if the higher ups would let us…and the company has actually been scheduling all-staff, in-person gatherings left and right for the last 2 weeks. They also had the gall to send out an Outlook invite for an informal, optional info session about VPN access and MS Teams, with this disclaimer:
          **Please note this is a preparedness effort and not a call for all staff to work from home at this time** [emphasis theirs]

          The IRONY is that our whole business involves patient safety and advising healthcare organizations about potential problems…including COVID-19 preparedness! It’s like the more that every other company (including “butt in seat” traditional ones) are scrambling to figure out a good WFH solution, or even just disinfecting stuff more, offering more paid sick leave, etc….we are digging our heels in about passive-aggressively shaming people for not coming into the office, NOT stepping up disinfection and cleaning protocols, not restoring the 4 paid sick days we all lost when the company switched to “one bucket PTO” 2 years ago, etc.
          Anyone hiring out there for a writer and/or former admin assistant?

      2. NW Mossy*

        If you haven’t already, please tell your boss about this. As a manager of similarly situated people myself, if anyone on my team is taking heat for being cautious about not contracting an illness that could kill them, I want to know so that I can shut that down with extreme prejudice. I’d much rather that someone get a few extra WFH days they didn’t “need” than have anyone feel pressured to take risks with their health just to appease someone who can’t keep their beak in their own feeder.

        1. Allypopx*

          “can’t keep their beak in their own feeder” I love this.

          But also yes. Disabled/high risk people deal with enough shit that requires them to risk their own health for the comfort and convenience of others. If they’re “taking advantage” of the situation by taking the accommodations that should have always been available to them that they’ve been denied, regardless of whether or not they objectively “need” them right now, more power to them.

        2. Candi*

          “can’t keep their beak in their own feeder”

          I’m getting weird looks at Starbucks for giggling at this.

          (Two classes online, one class butt-in-seat twice a week. Starbucks is nice place to grab a bite after running errands, and do a bit of homework. Reading about differential equations, modeling populations.)

      3. RUKiddingMeeds to disabuse*

        It seems to be in our cultural DNA to doubt people who say they are ill.

        Kid says they are sick… she just doesn’t want to go to school. Adult says she’s ill…trying to get out of work.

        We seem to assume that anyone saying they are ill/in pain is a liar, liar pants on fire person.

        For some reason…

        1. Threeve*

          And even if we believe people are ill, they aren’t ill enough.

          One person’s broken leg doesn’t mean another person’s sprained ankle isn’t painful or in need of care. But how many people will be sympathetic to the sprained ankle today only to ditch that sympathy when they learn about the broken leg tomorrow?

          1. Working Mom*

            I notice this in day to day stuff too. Everyone always has to “have it worse” than the next guy. If I’m busy – the guy next to me is WAY busier! Or if I haven’t taken a vacation in 2 yrs, next guy hasn’t take one in 4 years!! What is it with people needing to one up people in a negative way? I don’t play that game.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              I gave up on asking for sympathy when my ‘boyfriend broke up with me on the phone after a week of silence’ got topped with ‘fiance admitted to dating the room mate’. At least my fella was honest about it.

          2. Allypopx*

            I’m definitely finding this with the COVID-19 stuff. I’m asthmatic and therefore in the high risk group. But…people don’t take adult asthma super seriously (it is serious, fwiw) so I think I’m coming off as whiny to some people. Professors, namely.

            1. Candi*

              You’d like my computer science professor. She takes Covid seriously and its effects on the compromised seriously. She’s also used her “knowledgeable authority figure” status to tell the class the facts of the virus and how to sensibly protect themselves, including good online sources for information.

              In your case, she’d tell you to stay home to protect yourself -she’s already made sure extra resources for assignments are online in our Canvas classroom.

              1. Allypopx*

                That does sound like an amazing professor. My professors are just moaning about how inconvenient all these health concerns are. Ugh.

            2. Schools Out for Covid!*

              Asthma. Yes people can die from that. I am asthmatic and have been following closely about social distancing and self- quarantine. I cancelled all my travel 3 weeks ago. I sent sick student workers home last week. This Monday I canceled my classes and events. Yesterday I was getting a lot of “you are over reacting.” Today my college announced no classes, teaching will be on-line and closed until further notice. I may have no work/life balance but I am certainly not going to put myself in harms way.

        2. Sue*

          I don’t think that is necessarily true but it is why I get incredibly angry when someone fakes an illness/rape/crime of any kind because it gives a hint of rationality to doubters and naysayers. Then they justify their terrible behavior by saying that faking is a common occurrence. Those few fakers can do enormous harm.

          1. pancakes*

            They’re not directly harming anyone but the people with the misfortune to be targeted by them, though. People who use those rare examples to justify being indiscriminately hyper-vigilant about anyone and everyone with an illness, injury, etc., are maybe doing more harm. It’s not a contest, of course; I just wanted to add that thoughtless hyper-vigilance is pretty common, and pretty harmful to people who are already in a vulnerable position.

        3. Moxie*

          This is absolutely true. My mother was like this when I was a child. She will * still* talk about me wanting to “skip school” when I was in the fourth grade. Except that I had blood test diagnosed MONO and was incredibly sick from it. I am 34 years old and still resist the urge to offer my boss a detailed listing of my symptoms when sick out of fear he will not believe me.

          1. Candi*

            My kids pulled the “but I feel sick” on me several times growing up.

            But what that meant for me was an assessment of symptoms every. single. time. It was tedious, but it was better for all three of us if I did that. Knowing I would check cut back on the fake “I’m sick” times, and running through the list and checking them meant I got very familiar with how they looked when genuinely sick. (My daughter goes very pale; my son gets big shadows under his eyes.)

            And then the time came when my son said, yeah, he wasn’t sick, but he didn’t want to go to school and could he take a mental health day? (His phrase.) After running through where he was in his work and what he had going on in his classes according to his schedule, I told him yes. Which resulted in more honesty from both about when they were feeling mental stress, and dropped times of trying to fake physical sickness to almost zero.

              1. Candi*

                Personal philosophy: BE the change you wish to see in the world -even if it’s just raising your kids to be the best they can be -multiple types of smart, tolerant but enforcing personal boundaries, willing to judge by character and deeds. It’s okay to be wrong; it’s what you do about it that counts. Authority can be wrong; choose your battles. That kind of thing.

      4. LunaLena*

        “Maybe they want to scoff at what others are going through out of a subconscious fear of something similar happening to them.”

        I think it’s another nasty head of the Lernaen hydra that is victim-blaming. People like to think that “this would never happen to ME because I’m smart/healthy/strong/whatever,” so if you have some kind of problem, it’s obviously your fault and therefore you shouldn’t get any kind of special treatment. And in cases like this OP, I bet they pat themselves on the back for being “smart” enough to see through the deception, which is why they have no problem openly talking about how OP is faking or isn’t as sick as she claims.

        One of the few fun things that have come out of being an unexpected type 2 diabetic (I tick literally none of the boxes that should have led to me having diabetes) is that I can now easily shut people down for picking on others for invisible disabilities. All it takes is me saying “well I have diabetes, but you couldn’t tell just by looking at me” and showing the “Type 2 Diabetic” tattoo on my wrist, which I got specifically because I really don’t look at all like the stereotypical diabetic, to get someone to start stuttering “well that’s different” and then shutting up after mocking another person for “not looking sick.”

        1. Candi*

          It’s one of the nastier subsets of the just world and prosperity gospel overlapping-philosophies nonsense, both of which go back much farther than a lot of people realize. To admit both are fallacies is to admit that we just don’t have as much control as we think we do, and that’s scary -but necessary, to gain true control.

          Sometimes, sometimes, the universe just decides to play dice. And decent people get hit with snake eyes.

      5. Panthera uncia*

        Back when I was a caregiver to an immunocompromised parent, I had to take a lot of extra precautions at work. The ONLY reason I got flexibility and understanding was because my immediate supervisor had SLE. Colleagues with similar issues in other departments got a ton of flak.

        I’m now in the same situation with another parent, and TBH I’ve become bitter over the past month, seeing how remote work has magically become possible for so many companies that swore it was never going to happen. Suddenly their bottom line is affected, so VPN miracles can occur.

    3. Aiani*

      One of my co-workers recently found out that she has cancer and then shortly afterwards found out that it is dormant and she won’t need some of the more invasive treatments. We all reacted with relief and joy to know that her treatments should hopefully be pretty minimal (compared to other cancer treatments). That is how colleagues should react.

      You didn’t do anything wrong. Your colleagues are shameful people who will apparently only believe someone who is suffering as much as possible.

    4. Kate 2*

      People are such jerks about invisible disabilities and conditions. And they never seem to learn. I suffer sometimes from vertigo due to a few other conditions. Some days I am fine, some days bedridden and everything in between. More than once I have had to use the handicapped accessible stall.

      One time I came out to an elderly woman with a cane giving me a filthy look. She knocked into me getting into the stall and almost knocked me down. Frankly she seemed a lot steadier on her feet than I was that day.

      It’s hard on public transportation too. On days I can I give up my seat if someone seems to need it. But other days I really need it, and I am afraid to get judged for not giving it up. In some states, like one I used to live in it is even illegal not to give your seat up and since I can’t afford health insurance I can’t get qualified as disabled, even if I qualified since my conditions vary day to day.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I have to give mad props to a woman I’ve been seeing on my bus the last few months. If the bus is SRO, she will walk right up to someone in a front seat, say loudly, “I have a disability, could I have your seat?” She is my hero and she doesn’t even know it. I’m a pretty shy person so I’ve never even spoken to her.

        And she is not “obviously” disabled, so I’m sure she has gotten a lot of flak from ableds about not “looking” disabled. I hate those people.

        Unrelated: she also has really cool pink hair.

      2. Candi*

        Handicapped parking spaces are reserved; stalls are priority. There IS a difference, over and above the whole invisible disability fields! Argh.

        I’m a serious klutz; I have the “controlled fall” down because it’s often less disastrous then trying to arrest my movement. I’m also mean and have “continued to fall” when some jerk knocks into me, catching myself on a wall or rail. They generally go white/horrified and scram. Good.

  7. LSP*

    Not being believed about a medical problem is awful, and it’s even worse when you have coworkers who feel entitled to use it as fodder for their gossipy tendencies. Your reaction may not be how you would have wish you had responded, but that does not make this situation at all your fault. I hope your coworkers all feel the shame and embarrassment they deserve to feel and that you do let HR know what has been going on. I am so sorry you have had to go through this nonsense on top of fighting cancer and worrying about paying your bills.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I have a chronic skin condition and when I have a flareup my skin can bleed just from friction from clothes. I asked to go home early one day from work and my supervisor was hesitating even though my position was covered and we weren’t busy. I took her to the washroom and showed her my skin which looked like it had been sandpapered off. Some people have to see to believe.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        You shouldn’t have even had to do that. Sheesh – why can’t folks just take people at their word about things like this? Sure, there are some people who lie about medical conditions to get out of work, but you generally can tell who those people are by the nature of their work output. It’s ridiculous that people with medical issues feel they have to perform sick just to get basic kindness and courtesy in the workplace.

        1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

          At the time I had worked there almost 3 years without taking a sick day. It was also the day I decided to start looking for another job.

      2. crchtqn*

        That is awful you even have to do that. It makes me grateful for my manager who doesn’t need to ask more if I even have a migraine.

    2. Dragon_dreamer*

      I hurt my shoulder at work (back in my retail days) and my manager shredded the workmans comp paperwork because she was convinced I was faking! She made sure everyone else knew her opinion, too.

      Now that I’m a student worker, my supervisor and professors are happily working out ways for me to attend remotely if (likely) needed. I’m high risk to begin with, but they will probably shut down campus within the next week or so. I’ll lose my income, but thankfully I have some savings and a big paycheck from spring break.

      1. Candi*

        I think that’s a valid “is that legal” question -is it legal to interfere with a workers’ comp claim?

        And right now, only my college’s campuses are still open in the area -the rest have shut down. I hope you have the funds to carry you through!

    3. aebhel*

      Absolutely this. I can see why LW is embarrassed about losing her temper, but it was *absolutely* justified by the coworkers’ vile behavior.

  8. cancer*

    How horrible! Please know you did nothing wrong. Your anger was justified in this cesspool of a situation. I hope this is the end of it.

  9. KK*

    First of all, OP I am sorry beyond words for what you went through.
    Secondly, pls go to HR and name & shame these buttholes! If you ahve any fear or doubt running through your mind, pls know that you have ALLLLL of AAM backing you!
    Kick ass & take names. You got this!

  10. Hornswoggler*

    I would like to re-frame the idea of a word that Alison uses in paragraph 6:

    “And yes, you should definitely talk with HR and your manager! Not to *confess* what you did, although you can certainly mention that…”

    If you tell someone what you did, please think of it as ‘revealing’ or ‘disclosing’ it, but not ‘confessing’. If in your head you are using the word ‘confess’, you are thinking you are yourself int he wrong whereas, as Alison so rightly says, you are certainly not.

    I often see the word ‘confess’ in ghastly contexts such as “She confessed that she was a rape victim” or “he confessed that he had been sexually abused”. Another such word is ‘admitted’. It’s a real bugbear of mine – we need to change our language to reflect the reality.

    1. EmbracesTrees*

      YES, thank you for pointing out the significance of our word choices.

      And, yes, OP, you ARE a badass, and what you did may require a “discussion” but no more than that. The only “confessing” that need take place is from your coworkers owning up to what utter judgemental jerks they’ve been.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      If anything, I think sharing this interaction in her conversation with HR would serve to underscore just how prevalent and unbearable the harassment had become. This is not an instance of you behaving poorly, OP, this shows how horridly your colleagues have been behaving. Wishing you the all the best.

    3. Tiffany Aching*

      Yes, maybe frame it like “I was tired of dealing with months of harassment, and in an effort to get it to stop, I showed them my surgical scars. I would like the company’s assurance that going forward, I won’t need to take such measures.”

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes – OP I think this is useful for you to frame to yourself. You shouldn’t, and won’t be ‘confessing’ anything, as you have nothing to confess, having done nothing wrong.
      You will be disclosing that, due to the ongoing bullying you experiences, you felt compelled to take drastic measures to try to stop it, by showing your surgical scars.

      Frame it in your own head as trying to address the bullying and harassment you were suffering, rather than as you ‘exposing’ anything, and approach it from that perspective when you speak to HR, as Alison suggests.

      Both because it is more accurate, and because you need them to focus n the harassment, not the measures you took to try to end it.

    5. Sleve McDichael*

      Confess? I think you mean DECLARE your badass-ness! And announce that you will take no more of this excrement.
      You’re my hero, OP!

  11. Jean*

    If your company’s management has a lick of sense, no one will ever bring this up to you again, except in response to process service should you decide to file a lawsuit against them. I would consider it if I were you. Juries tend to be very sympathetic to plaintiffs in your situation.

  12. Joie De Vivre*

    OP I am so sorry. I am PISSED on your behalf. I hope your co-irkers are ashamed of themselves. And I just want to say You Rock!

  13. Aphrodite*

    I am so sorry, OP. You were provoked beyond reason and your reaction could be even considered subdued. Please follow Alison’s advice and get HR involved. No one should have to go through what you did.

  14. What is UX Anyway?*

    OP you handled that like a hero, IMO. I know I’m not the most mature person on the planet, but you did NOTHING wrong here. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with that.

    I mean, I’d probably rub it in more. EVERY DAY I would be all “GOOD MORNING :D :D How is everyone? Just so you all know, I’m going to the doctor and then the grocery store at [date]. In case any of you see me and have questions”

    Just… I’m so so so so angry for you.

  15. Crivens!*

    I’d love to see how they think they’d spin it if they DID complain. “OP offended me when she lifted her shirt in my general direction…after I spent months calling her a liar about a traumatizing and scary experience!”

  16. Mid*

    My grandmother, who is my hero for so many reasons, had a prosthetic breast. Way back when, they weren’t soft and squishy, they were pretty much rocks. And she had been known to chuck her prosthetic breast at people who harassed her.

    Basically, I 1000% support you, OP. And your coworkers deserve much worse.

    1. Mean when provoked*

      Chuck it at them! Hard!

      And tell them to put it in their skulls, so there’s at least something there to fill the empty void

    2. KoiFeeder*

      …Are we related? My grandmother was known for doing that, too.

      She also sewed a pocket into her bras and stuck things in there in there when she didn’t feel like wearing her prosthetic.

      1. starlight*

        Prosthetic bras have pockets already; that’s where you put the breast form. You can also keep a bunch of other stuff in there, it’s great. As long as it’s behind the breast form, it doesn’t obstruct the shape.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          She didn’t buy the prosthetic bras. She just altered the ones she already had.

          Given how much my mom has to spend on the prosthetic bras, I think she had the right idea, but I think there might be musculoskeletal stuff going on that makes the specialized bras better.

      2. willow for now*

        Capri Sun! and it was Cold! (There’s a comedian who jokes about his grandma pulling all kinds of things out of her bra.)

  17. Don*

    I think you need to go discuss this with HR not because you did anything wrong (you didn’t! they were awful! you were a total badass!) but because you want to get this harassment/disbelief on official record. ADA accommodations require notification, and while you’ve done that you should keep the paper trail up-to-date here to demonstrate where they’ve failed to back you up.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I completely agree – I would be approaching it in terms of “I am reporting this so it is on the record, and I will follow up with you by email. This harassment WILL stop. What co-workers have done constitutes creating a hostile workplace, and I am being discriminated against because of my health condition. To be clear, I am not apologizing for showing co-workers my scars. I won’t do so again, but I was severely provoked. If this happens again, next time, I’ll be talking to a lawyer.”

    2. hbc*

      Really, the only way I’d bring up the “exposure”/reveal is to show how outrageous the coworkers have been. “I’ve got an ADA accommodation and plenty of documentation for FMLA, and I’ve been harassed indirectly for months about it. It took me showing my scars to get a couple of them to stop talking about it within earshot.”

    3. Bagpuss*

      I agree. Let HR know that you have a relevant protected characteristic requiring accommodation and that your employer has, so far, failed to protect you from harassment and bullying and allowed you to be subjected to a hostile worklplace. Document that with HR, and make your own, separate records including notes of when you spoke to them and what you told them (maybe follow up your meeting with an e-mail, and forward it to your own personal account so you have it even if something happens to your work e-mail or your access to it.)

      Hopefully, your employers will be as horrified as we are at how you have been treated and will take steps to ensure that you are not treated than way in future, but in a worst-case scenario,if it recurs or if they fail to take appropriate steps, having the documentation of your concerns will be very helpful for you.

      And even though the bullying has stopped, if you report it, then it may well mean that HR are more aware of the problem and can make sure that it does not happen to anyone else in future, either.

  18. The IT Plebe*

    This is infuriating. How freakin’ hard is it to MYODB??? Unless it’s directly impacting their work, they have no reason to speculate or assume you’re faking and if it *was* having an impact, they need to take that to their boss, not whisper in the break room about it like it’s high school.

    OP, you are completely, entirely, irrevocably in the right and I hope you do bring this to HR and your boss. Your awful coworkers deserve whatever consequences they have coming to them.

  19. Matilda Jefferies*

    This reminds me of the letter writer who bit someone, and was understandably mortified. Same sort of situation – things are terrible at work, and a normally reasonable person had finally just Had Enough.

    I totally agree with Alison and others that you’re fine here! I’d be mortified too, but honestly it should never have got to that point in the first place. I hope you can get some resolution from HR.


    1. Lille*

      I actually wouldn’t equate those at all. The letter writer here did nothing illegal or bad. Whereas biting a coworker – no matter how provoked – squarely puts you in the wrong (and could be considered assault).

    2. starlight*

      I was also thinking of this one! Toxic workplaces end up creating events that wouldn’t occur elsewhere but just become so normalized.

  20. Oxford Comma*

    I have no advice, OP, but I want to say you have my unqualified admiration and sympathy.

  21. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP, I am outraged on your behalf. The unmitigated gall of some people is just unbelievable. You have my deepest sympathies.

    And this is we need to take people’s health care claims seriously, whether it’s cancer, pregnancy (thinking of yesterday’s letter), a mental health day, or just a routine doctor’s visit. Sure, there’s the one in a million who will abuse a sick day, but if you are their coworker, it’s NUNYA. No medical condition runs exactly the same course in everybody.

    Please go to HR. These people need to be either disciplined and retrained, or if there is a history of this already in their file, fired.

  22. JohannaCabal*

    In other words, your coworkers poked the bear and got bit. I think they are the ones who learned a lesson.

  23. Arctic*

    My aunt had breast cancer but barely even took a day off of work. She had treatments at lunch. I’ve never heard of anything like it. She was very very very lucky (except for the cancer existing, at all, of course.) They caught it quickly. It was relatively easy to treat at that stage. And she had a job that accommodated her needing longer lunches and some afternoon off. (To be clear, they would have let her take as much time as needed she just didn’t see the need.)

    I had a co-worker with cancer who at first seemed the “ideal” patient. He was otherwise super healthy, relatively young, they thought they caught it pretty early. They thought he would just need surgery. Nope. It was more aggressive than they thought. He ended up having to do multiple rounds of radiation, which was horrible. He was out far longer than anyone had even imagined.

    You just never know! There is no typical cancer case. It doesn’t exist. It’s why it’s such a tough disease to tackle because it can differ so much and treatment plans are often more guesswork than anything.

    These people absolutely suck. They got what they deserve. Don’t say a word unless HR does. Then you can be contrite if you want (I don’t think it’s needed) but explain how it got to that point. They are creating a horrid working environment for you and management is letting it fester. It’s may or may not be legally actionable due to ADA concerns. But morally this is horrendous.

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      Yup. My wife works in Pathology and spends a lot of time diagnosing cancer. She’s repeatedly told me “cancer doesn’t read the book.” The problem with cancer is that no cancer is identical and hence no patient’s treatment is identical.

      1. James*

        That’s the truth. The same cancer can have VERY different results. My grandfather got pancreatic cancer. Fortunately it was on the side of the pancreas that has a duct, so they were able to identify it early, do surgery, and get rid of it. His doctor also got pancreatic cancer at around the same time. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the pancreas, where it wasn’t noticeable until it was too late. The doctor didn’t live long enough to see my grandfather recover from his cancer.

  24. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Oh, OP, I’m so sorry. Your co-workers and supervisor are awful, petty, immature jerks. They are quiet because they’re doing the low-crawl after you showed them just how awful they were.

    You have absolutely nothing to apologize for – they do, and I doubt they’ll be mature enough to acknowledge how awful they were. Please let HR know about what they subjected you to, and please continue to take care of yourself…and please ignore those idiots.

  25. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Bravo to you! I think that was a really good STFU move on your part. I hope you continue to recover!

  26. Narise*

    I am in awe of your bravery! You survived cancer! And I think it’s great that you showed them literally and told them to blank themselves.

    I would draw attention to the fact that the supervisor has been part of the harassment and his flippant ‘oh the cancer thing again right,’ is proof that he didn’t believe OP either. You lead by example and his example is horrible. Hope he gets demoted or fired.

    1. Cheesehead*

      Yes, I’d definitely bring it up to HR that you feel that because of comments he’s made to you, you don’t feel the supervisor is capable of managing you fairly, given how he made derogatory comments about your cancer and also did nothing to stop other people from gossiping about you.

  27. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Assume that your manager already knows about the harassment (because it’s her job to know). Go directly to HR and stress the company’s possible liability for a clear ADA violation.

    1. Stopgap*

      How would the manager already know? It doesn’t sound like OP told her, and I doubt that anyone else said, “Hey, just a heads up, we’re going to harrass OP over her cancer.”

  28. Cheesehead*

    Good for you, OP!!! I really hope they felt some shame after that! I LOVE the direct response when people are trying to be cagey about assuming something.

    And I hope the “It’s been a couple of weeks and no one has said anything” comment means that the OP has ALSO not heard any of the backstabbing gossipy comments.

    I’d love to know how they’ve been treating her these past couple of weeks. Can they even look her in the eye? Are they avoiding her, or conversely, are the idiots trying to be all nicey-nice to her now?

  29. AnonToday*

    Alison is right that you wont get fired…at a decent company… I have no doubt shitty companies can twist a moment of a lapse in judgment (that didn’t hurt anyone) into something awful… no matter how provoked op might have been.

    I’m not a fan of anecdotes as evidence, but I lost my job (a month before a scheduled surgery no less) after I was assaulted by one of my staff members. I certainly didn’t provoke her, and I didn’t even fight back because I’m trained in DT and was afraid someone would make me the bad guy…which happened anyway.

    I also used to work at a job that regularly fired people for swearing. And I mean even one incidence of it. Not long tirades or f-bombs in front of customers, but legit for saying anything even once.

    I sympathize with op so much…

    1. Yorick*

      I think OP needs to disclose this to HR, as part of the conversation about the harassment. Because one of those jerks could very well claim that OP flashed them out of the blue. If they’re at all reasonable, they won’t do that – they probably just feel bad about themselves and won’t say anything more about it. But they could. And if HR only heard that story, they’d certainly take it very seriously.

    2. Ismonie*

      The difference here is the OP is a member of a protected class.

      Although you might want to talk to a lawyer as well. Firing a person who is assaulted in some jurisdictions means the company ratified the assault.

  30. Buttons*

    *slow clap* I can’t believe OP was able to put up with that for so long without snapping! Those people are horrible and HR and OP’s manager need to know. That crap needs to be shut down now. It is not ok, none of it. If those were my direct reports they would all be hauled into a room with HR and told that there will be no more talk about anyone’s time off, their illness, or the inconvenience of someone being out might be causing them. It is none of their business what has been provided to HR and to FMLA, and if they can’t be compassionate and empathetic then they are free to leave now. If it comes up again they will be fired. F that noise.

      1. WellRed*

        It reinforces how awful workplaces, like the OPs, can be. All too often, people normalize their awful workplaces and suffer in silence.

  31. Secret Identity*

    OP, I have never had breast cancer, so I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But I can say that I am so sorry that you not only had to go through that, but have had to endure the harassment you’ve put up with so far. You didn’t do anything wrong, in my book – which, of course, means nothing, but I think a lot of people feel the same. In fact, what you did makes you a hero to me.
    I have a friend and coworker who has been going through breast cancer and if someone dared to even imply to me she might be faking, I think I’d punch them in the throat. You did nothing wrong. Please don’t spend any more time beating yourself up over this. Go to HR, to upper management, to anyone over them and even get a lawyer if you have to. What they’re doing is despicable and unacceptable. I hope they all lose their jobs over it. Yes, I’m a terrible person and I don’t feel sorry about that.

  32. WellRed*

    What a petty gossipy little workplace you have! Please stop feeling like you can’t advocate for yourself (a year of this!) even though it may be the last thing you have energy for. Also, please stop thinking you need to be oh so grateful for the favors (of complying with FMLA, ADA, whatever). The very least a company with any humanity would do is try to make this easier for you. Alert HR immediately!

  33. Bubbles*

    OP – I want to start by saying I’m sorry your coworkers are such douchecanoes. Second, I want to be you when I grow up. That response was one for the ages. Like, I’m standing up and applauding you. I understand that you reached a painful boiling point that precipitated that action, so it isn’t something you are feeling celebration over, but much like the dreams of vengeful quitting, shoving it up the noses of jerky coworkers is a feeling we all have.

    I would also encourage you to report their actions to HR. Don’t phrase it as exposing yourself. You showed your surgical scars because of your colleagues’ (and supervisor’s!) bullying.

  34. SunnySideUp*

    Eff those glassbowls. You’re awesome.

    Hold your head high and hold them all accountable.

  35. Memily*

    My mother did this to my brother. She had breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her, but he was doing that teenage attitude thing about things not being the same as before. I just don’t think that he was fully aware of the severity, and being a teen, was completely self-centered about it.

    She lifted her shirt and showed her scars—she’s previously been really careful about not scaring him with them, but had reached the end of her rope. They were (and still are, to a point) pretty severe. He started crying. And he never questioned it again.

    I know a family situation is totally different that a professional one, but I think the concept stands. They needed to be shocked out of their behavior, and what you did shocked them. If I were their manager, I’d 100% want to know about this so that I could shut the comments all the way down. People who act like this are horrendous, and the PTB can’t help you unless they know what’s been going on.

    1. Memily*

      Also, it feels like the reason this feels so awkward is because of the placement of the scars. Would you feel as bad if you’d had back surgery or shoulder surgery and showed those scars instead? There’s nothing shameful about showing your scars, it just feels weird since breasts have been so sexualized culturally. But…there’s no breast there anymore.

    2. Candi*

      Family may be different from the workplace, but it does illustrate how badly the coworkers and supervisor were behaving -like snotty self-centered teens whose brains are still being rewired*, not professional adults whose brains have finished the process.

      *One of the reasons bad teen behavior needs to be shut down when it occurs: Teens aren’t always firing on all cylinders, leading them to make dumb decisions, and it’s imperative bad behavior isn’t normalized in the new wiring patterns.

  36. Aggretsuko*

    I would bet money that if I did this in my office, someone would have reported me and I would have gotten written up within 24 hours.

    But it’s been a long time since it happened and nobody’s said anything, so I think you are off the hook. Must look pretty bad to complain that “Oh, I claimed someone didn’t have cancer and then she flipped her shirt up to prove it.”

    1. WellRed*

      I think it would take a special kind of obliviousness to report the OP for this. There’s really nothing to report other than their own bad behavior and how they’ve opened the company up to legal liabilities.

        1. voyager1*

          Simple really—
          Coworkers: “So we really discussing a work related issue and LW thought we were talking about her (we were not) and she got overly angry and yells at us that she really has cancer and then exposes herself to us. It was so crazy. ” If they go to HR with that first that starts the narrative. I imagine that is why the LW is so upset. She knows she could get fired for this even though she was confronting a bunch of bullies.

          1. FM*

            OP, please think long and hard if you want to report it. I worked in a disfunctional place where things like what you described were happening. If the gossip was going on for months and your supervisor was in on it there is a good chance the HR and management are aware but chose not to do anything to address it. If you report this, it’s possible (not certain but possible) your coworkers will deny they ever talked about you, they will say you’re overly sensitive and acted on something that didn’t happen, they wll make you look small and delusional and there will be nothing you will be able to do about it. It will be your word agains theirs and you will be alone. Those people who told you others believed you were faking your illness may not confirm this in front of the HR and the grand boss – if they were willing to support you they would have suggested going to HR with you to corroborate your story already. Yes, it’s human to want to feel vindicated, to have someone in a position of authority to validate you that you are right and other emplyees treated you badly, but consider whether it’s worth the risk. The HR usually wants to protect the employer first, there is no hard evidence, it’s a he said she said scenario. What will you do if the coworkers deny they talked about you in the first place? Seems like they backed off anyway so maybe it’s best to enjoy their silence and relief from the abuse, focus on the recovery and start job searching as soon as feasible? I feel for you, but I worry going to HR could backfire and brand you as difficult / crazy and make everything worse.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              No, this is not the advice OP needs. She absolutely needs to go to HR to report this – she has FMLA and she’s protected under the ADA, and her supervisor, not her actual manager, is leading a hateful whisper campaign against her in the office accusing her of lying about her well-documented illness. This is discrimination and there’s nothing in the letter that would lead us to believe her HR department, and the company’s legal department, wouldn’t act on this report.

            2. learnedthehardway*

              If I were in the OP’s shoes and even suspected that this might be the answer to any complaint I made about being harassed for a medical issue, I would be talking to a lawyer first, and THEN talking to HR….. with a letter from the lawyer in hand.

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, I can see management responding badly to her in a toxic workplace, but since that hasn’t happened, I’m guessing that the gossipers learned their lesson and are stewing in shame, as they should be.

    3. Annie O Mous*

      I agree. Sadly most places I have worked, I bet she would have been shown the door.

      **Not saying that its right, OP had every right to do what she did. What her co-workers put her through, was cruel.**

  37. Crying*

    LW, reading your experience made me cry. Fighting cancer is hard and I’m glad you are doing well. Sending you lots of love and completely support you for what you did.

    Fighting for your rights and dealing with the push back is hard, too. I say this as someone that has has spent hours on calls, emails, voicemails, being redirected to the wrong office, etc. trying to get my child appropriate services under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws. My request for everyone out there is to please support those with disabilities, medical needs, etc. and be another voice when you see a problem.

  38. Alice's Tree*

    OP, your coworkers suck. Alison is right you have nothing to apologize for. When you go to HR, frame it as it truly is – after a campaign of harassment, you felt you had to show them your scars to be believed. That you felt you had to take that extreme action and experience such a violation of your privacy is on them, not on you.

  39. Sharbe*

    THEY should be coming to YOU to apologize for their horrible, inexcusable behavior and every day that goes by that they don’t, adds to their overall level of horibbleness. Remember that every time you start to beat yourself up.

  40. Krakatoa*

    I don’t have anything relevant to your work situation, I just have to say that you are a boss for doing that and I wish I had an ounce of that righteous outrage to shut down things like that. Your co-workers are giant holes.

  41. Interviewer*

    This letter made my jaw drop in admiration. And then I started crying. I can’t stop. I’m so effing proud of you, OP. Hold your head high. You are a HERO.

    It might be wise to be prepared for them to trickle in, one at a time, over the next few weeks and months, to apologize and tell you how awful they feel for saying anything bad during your recovery. Consider now how you might handle that – graciously? Begrudgingly? Forgive and forget? Ignore it? Just be prepared. Not all of them will, but it’s possible for the guilt to overwhelm a few of them.

    I hope you update us on your progress. Best wishes to you.

  42. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    WELL DONE, OP!!! You are an absolute bad-ass and YOU ROCK!!

    I am so sorry you were pushed to this point. Your co-workers suck and I hope they feel mortification and shame for a long time.

    Good luck with your continued recovery.

  43. Akcipitrokulo*

    You didn’t do anything wrong. I am horrified on your behalf that they pushed it that far. The only negative would be if *you* felt discomfort.

    Your colleagues and supervisor are probably silent on the matter while internally thinking “…please don’t report us please don’t report us please don’t report us…”

  44. MissDisplaced*

    Well… OK, to be honest here, perhaps that wasn’t the best way to handle things (not that I blame you given the circumstances) but still perhaps not the best way. I cannot say I wouldn’t have done the same if people were accusing me about lying about having breast cancer. Your supervisor and your coworkers were being truly awful and horrible people about something that is not even their business, and I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with that shit at work.

    But yes, I think you should probably have a talk with your HR and explain that you’ve been living in a very hostile work environment while undergoing cancer treatment where people are basically making false accusations that you are lying about your medical condition and treatment thereof, and that you… basically proved them wrong.

    And HR at this company really needs to educate this particular workforce about FMLA and ADA in general.

    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      Frankly, I think it was the exactly right way to handle the situation, given the circumstances.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        “I lifted my shirt, exposing the scars on my chest. I then told them to go blank themselves and returned to my office.”

        I can’t say I blame OP—and it was pretty perfect. But generally on this site telling your manager to “go blank themselves” would be pretty frowned upon and the suggestion would be to remain calm, cool and professional.

    2. Crying*

      Since you mentioned training, I’m going to plug a new resource that was just released. (No, I have nothing to do with this org or the resource creation but I think it’s a great resource.) The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a new FREE training on employing people with disabilities. Google “employing abilities at work”. I’m only part way in and it gives great information on inclusion and basic ADA info.

  45. Alex*

    I think the reason that you are getting silence is because the people who were doing this feel ashamed and have seen their behavior as bad and don’t want to bring up their own bad behavior.

    GOOD. That was the point.

    Wishing you a continued smooth recovery, OP.

  46. Phil*

    People can be SO weird about medical stuff. Since the OP didn’t meet her co-workers expectations so OF COURSE she was faking.
    I had a serious medical issue that required a day long surgery and then a post surgical infection that required another day long surgery and 3 months in the hospital and my girlfriend, yes, girlfriend, thought I should have been back to normal, which, sadly, I will never be. My mobility is restricted and she was pissed that I couldn’t do the things I used to do for her. Needless to say, she isn’t my girlfriend any more.

  47. Erin*

    I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that you’re having this experience. These coworkers are truly terrible. I hope you find some solace and space to take care of yourself during this difficult time, and I wish you a full recovery.

  48. CancerSucks*

    I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that BS while dealing with cancer, but please consider my virtual standing up and applauding! Your supervisors and coworkers suck.

    I had DCIS. Two surgeries and 7 weeks of radiation. I adjusted my work day, so other than being off for surgery, my work was not impacted. I have a colleague who has stage 4 breast cancer and is at work every day (taking oral chemo). I have a HS classmate who had a double mastectomy, did not need radiation or chemo, and later had reconstruction, but didn’t even have to take Tamoxifen. I have a sorority sister who has had 13 surgeries now because of or related to side effects of her breast cancer. It is different for everyone!!

    I hope you have support outside of work, because as you know, cancer treatment doesn’t stop anytime soon. (I just saw my Rad Onc for the last time, 5years after diagnosis, but still have to see my Med Onc and surgeon annually.) Hang in there! If you need understanding people to “chat” with, BreastCancer.org has a lot of very active message boards.

  49. OhBehave*

    Good for you, OP! Your coworkers are JERKS. I can’t imagine they didn’t know you heard them gossiping about you. It was on purpose! My mom had the same cancer experience (surgery only), while a friend went through the typically though of cancer treatment, chemo, radiation, hair loss, etc. I had cancer and got it all with surgery.
    The next time your supervisor acts flip in response to you needing time for surgery, ask them point blank, “You do believe I had cancer, right? I can provide proof with the bills I am trying to pay if you like.”
    Please keep us updated.
    CONGRATS on your successful treatment!

  50. The Bimmer Guy*

    LW1 — Wow. We’re sure off to a roaring start this year for rampant stupidity. I’m so sorry you were harassed into lifting your shirt (?!?!?!?!?!) to expose your scars. It’s not that you were inappropriate; you just shouldn’t have been driven to that point. But Alison is right. The people who should be worried about their liability and wrongdoing are your coworkers and supervisor.

  51. irene adler*

    Good on you, OP!

    I’m betting not a single co-worker stepped up and apologized.

    Shame on every one of them.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Exactly. If I was inclined to be as big of an ass as these people were (and I’m not), I would have been compelled to apologize profusely for my stupidity for weeks. The fact that no one is doing so is very telling of their poor character – you mess up, you own it and say you’re sorry.

  52. Annie Nymous*

    First and foremost: congratulations on your cancer battle. Keep fighting!

    Don’t know if it was mentioned but there is a commercial on television recently of a woman who was topless post-double mastectomy. If it made it past the same censors who fined CBS a half-million dollars for Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, I think you’re in the clear.

  53. GDUB*

    I was so afraid that you had exposed yourself to a virus or something dangerous because your coworkers didn’t take precautions because they didn’t believe you had cancer. When I got to the actual exposing, I cheered in relief and admiration. And Alison’s reassurances almost made me cry. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  54. Grbtw*

    Epic drop the mic moment! Go you! I don’t have anything to add to the substance of your letter, but in 5 years, you probably will have moved on to a new job, the stress aspect won’t matter anymore, but you have an amazing story that you get to own. You’re a hero.

  55. haygirlhay*

    As a breast cancer survivor myself, I would have done the same thing if pushed to my breaking point. Good for you. I hope your co workers feel terrible. Don’t spend another minute second guessing yourself here. Keep fighting Sis.

  56. Batgirl*

    What is this weird need people have to question others’ health? I have a co-worker who has a day off occasionally for medical stuff; only I and the bosses know what for.
    On the last one, our other co-worker (who is FASCINATED yet dubious about her medical needs) walked into our manager and his deputy’s office and literally asked them what the appointment was for.
    They both picked up their jaws and told her to mind her own bloody business.
    She still thinks what she did was fine.

    1. Quill*

      Some combination of the Just World Fallacy (If you ate right / prayed enough / cut out gluten like me you could control your health! This is because you didn’t human being right!) and the illusion of control.

    2. Goldenrod*

      Yes, I think OP’s letter raises a larger issue about people questioning their co-worker’s medical leave. It’s VERY common. Alison always (correctly) says to NEVER do this…you just never know what someone is dealing with, and not all medical things are visible.

      I’ve watched coworkers do this to others, and it’s very aggravating. People need to mind their own damn business, and stop making a career out of judging others at work!

    3. James*

      That was my thought. This is what, two in one week? I know many people who have medical issues that are not obvious–in some cases, the whole point of treatment is to prevent it from becoming obvious (or to put it medically, to prevent the disorder from affecting quality of life). I mean, how would an average office worker identify a neurological disorder? Or early-stage testicular cancer? For that matter, how about depression, PTSD, or (and I know of a case of this) high-functioning schizophrenia? And that’s just off the top of my head!!

      If someone is concerned that I went grocery shopping while waiting for a prescription, or that I am able to work after a medical appointment (not all appointments for cancer involve treatments; ultrasounds and the like are non-invasive), that person obviously doesn’t have enough to do at work.

    4. Candi*

      Can I applaud your manager and deputy manager for shutting her down? That’s fantastic.

      She’s probably done them a favor. She’s shown herself as having poor judgement and being invasively nosy; they now know what to watch her on, and to be ready to shut that down hard.

  57. Smiley*

    People are incredibly ignorant about various degrees of cancer and treatments. I started wearing camisoles so they could be reassured by my lopsided breasts!

    1. londonedit*

      Ugh, I’m sorry – it’s ridiculous, isn’t it. When my mum had breast cancer people were deeply concerned about her decision to have surgery followed by chemo, rather than the other way round (‘But don’t you want to see if chemo will shrink the tumour?!’ No, she’d been told she’d need a full mastectomy whichever way round she did it) and deeply troubled by the fact that there was never a big final doctor’s appointment where she was declared ‘cancer free’ or ‘in remission’ (the cancer went when they took everything away during surgery, so technically she was ‘cancer free’ from that point on, and chemo was belt-and-braces just to make sure). I think people have a Hollywood idea of what cancer is like, and they can’t handle it when people don’t conform to that.

      1. nonegiven*

        Supposedly, once you haven’t had a re-occurrence for 5 years, then they say you are cancer free. I’ve heard of it coming back after more than 10 years, though.

        1. Candi*

          Or developing other, even completely unrelated, types of cancer. And the study that estimated that for every case that gets noticed, the immune system has shut down who knows exactly how many by destroying the rogue cells.

          The human body is a real fustercluck sometimes.

      2. Candi*

        Eh, I remember reading something about using chemo or heat to shrink the tumor first can actually be a problem -if you don’t get the entire original area anyway, a cell or two might survive, escape the immune system, and cause another round of problems, so the patient has to do it all over again. If someone wants to avoid the potential by having everything removed in the first place without shrinkage, that’s their call.

  58. Public Facing Librarian*

    First of all document the situation.
    Second, I am so sorry some of your co-workers are dicks.
    Third, as someone who has not visible disabilities for the most part I have been enjoying videos by this person.
    Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
    Can you tell if a disabled person is ‘faking’? (yes, Jameela Jamil)
    You may enjoy it. Link in next comment.

    1. Hawk*

      YESSS. I have one of the same disabilities as Jessica (EDS) and this video was the best. I love her videos. My sibling just discovered them and loves them, too.
      Jessica also has a great “What NOT to say to a chronically ill person” and a “What NOT to say to a family member with disabilities” video that are On Point.

  59. Lady Blerd*

    I’m just here to say my admiration of your Chutzpah. Your coworkers are trash, you did nothing wrong. Keep your head high.

  60. rageismycaffeine*

    As a breast cancer survivor who “didn’t look sick” and was often worried about this same kind of gossip: oh my god, F(&^#$ your coworkers FOREVER. What a fabulous mic drop moment for you, but it’s so horrible that it came to this point.

    Love and light to you in your survivorship journey.

  61. Ralph the Wonder Llama*

    I applaud you. I hope your action has shut the BS down. However, do go to HR and fill them in on what you have been experiencing, and do so in excruciating detail. Maybe take some notes with you so that you don’t leave anything out. Be very detailed and specific. If nothing else, you are creating a paper trail.

  62. Ms. Cellophane*

    OP, I’m sorry that happened to you. Please update when you can and let us know how you are doing.

  63. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    Oh my goodness OP, I feel terrible that you are worrying about this. Alison’s advice is spot on. I would be furious if I heard that a coworker was being harassed about her cancer. I’m sure HR and your manager feel the same way. That behavior is unacceptable. HR and your manager seem like they’ve handled this well so far. If they knew about the harassment, I’m sure they would act. Your supervisor and coworkers acting terribly. You have done nothing wrong. Sending positive vibes your way.

  64. Stephanie*

    I wouldn’t feel guilty–you did something emotional after being provoked for months. I probably would have just pulled out the whole breast had I been subjected to that.

  65. Lobsterman*

    OP – please consult a labor lawyer to get options. This sounds very actionable to my limited knowledge, and a settlement would allow you to move to a new position with a cushion.

    1. Anonnington*

      I was thinking the same thing. I think OP should consult a lawyer (or other professional if she chooses) before going to HR. It’s unfortunate, but HR does work for the company. They don’t always choose the right side when it’s multiple co-workers against one, or a higher up targeting a subordinate. She should be prepared with a backup plan in case HR doesn’t act in her best interest.

  66. Caroline Bowman*

    I hope and sincerely want to believe that the shocked and continued silence was the result of at least a few of the hideous people who inhabit your office *suddenly* seeing a birds-eye view of themselves and dying of mortified shame.

    I know. It’s unlikely. People like this don’t have the ”shame” button.

    You did nothing wrong. You have been subjected to a hateful, cowardly, whispering campaign of the most obscene kind and when *listening to nasty lies about yourself for the umpteenth time* you showed them the proof they all seemed so obsessed with requiring. It is not obscene, it is not indecent, it is nothing of the sort. You want proof, here it is now eff off and may you all get terrible diagnoses that leave very few visible signs but cause terrible discomfort and require lots of accomodations… and then may you all get the kindness and support you so hatefully dished out.

    I hope that the relatively smooth journey you have had is a great sign that you are going to be well and fine in the near future and that this awful episode will soon be in the rear view mirror. I hope your fellow colleague who is also suffering is also well soon.

    Please go to HR and report exactly what has happened, with any documentary evidence or dates. It is a revolting commentary on people who apparently aren’t working nearly hard enough if they have time for this kind of thing.

  67. TiredMama*

    I worked in an office that would be like that. I can just hear the whispering and muffled giggles. Some people really enjoy being mean-spirited. And I can imagine how they will try to turn the tables if called out on it. What you did is probably the only way to shut it down. I’m so sorry. In my opinion, you have nothing, nothing to apologize for or bring to your manager. I hope your recovery continues to go smoothly and you remain cancer free.

  68. Quill*

    OP, what you did wasn’t any worse than the time I chucked my orthodics at someone who was on my case for not taking “my turn” doing field sampling I physically can’t do. (And my orthodics are NOT soft.)

    Difference here was that this was a dude I was otherwise friendly with, he’d seen me limping and on crutches pre-orthodics, and he genuinely hadn’t realized that it would be impossible for me to wear waders for stream sampling because the orthodics were the only reason I could walk and they wouldn’t fit in there. And he apologized. It never happened again.

    Your coworkers don’t deserve a plastic arch support to the arm, they deserve much, much worse.

  69. agnes*

    If I were your HR person, I would definitely want to know what happened. I would also discipline those people who were harassing you. They are asses and if they had a shred of integrity, they would have already apologized.

  70. The Rafters*

    2 Candidates in 2 days for the “you suck” boss award. For today’s winner, I think if I didn’t flash them, I certainly would have had some very loud and inappropriate words for them. OP, I wish you peace in your continuing recovery.

  71. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    May I just also add the obvious? Your team is completely toxic and is being led by a toxic manager. They suck and are horrible people.

    I have no advice on what to do as far as your job is concerned as I can totally understand the need to stay for the insurance. Plus Allison gave great advice that doesn’t need repeating. keep fighting the good fight…

    1. Candi*

      “I Will Steal Your Pens”

      Okay, this made me think “are they a ferret?” Because I used to have pet ferrets and I have a weird mind. :p

  72. nonprofit writer*

    As another woman who had breast cancer and also did not appear ill during that time (but nevertheless had multiple surgeries as well as a year of treatment), I salute you! Wow! You definitely did the right and brave thing and they deserve to be ashamed of themselves. I hope you do feel you can talk to HR about this. Again, wow! You are my hero.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I’ll roll out the red carpet and offer her snacks too.

      OP you are awesome! Best wishes for continued recovery.

  73. Nep*

    In addition to everyone else agreeing that you did nothing wrong, OP, can I just say congratulations on your recovery! I am so glad that you responded well to the treatment and have been doing great. I know it’s still scary to be suffering from chronic illness or not know when it’s coming back. I’m rooting for you and I hope everything gets easier from now on.

  74. A Simple Narwhal*

    I am so sorry you have been working with such massive jerks. They treated you appallingly during an already hard enough time, and you didn’t deserve it. But I just have to say LW, you are an enormous bad@ss, a legend, and I am in awe of the awesome mic-drop you delivered to your terrible coworkers. It feels like a moment out of a movie, it’s that amazing.

    I agree with Alison’s advice and I hope HR responds as they should to the jaw-dropping cruelty you have been subjected to. I also hope you get a chance to see these comments and see that you have so many people rooting for you and on your side.

  75. hayling*

    OP, I’m honestly impressed you kept your cool for as long as you did. I have a neck injury and constantly have to ask for a seat on the bus, and people are often suspicious because I’m young and I look “healthy,” and it’s exhausting having to combat that doubt. Once right after I had surgery, a lady reluctantly gave me her seat but quietly said “I don’t believe you,” and I lost it—I ripped off my scarf, pulled my hair up, pointed to the angry red scar on my neck and said “then what the F*CK do you think that is” and stared at her angrily. I can’t imagine you having to deal with this type of harassment every day from your coworkers.

  76. animaniactoo*

    #1, your co-workers suck. Not everyone has the same response to medical treatment and if they haven’t figured that out by now, I’m not sure there’s much hope of rescue for them.

    #2, But it is amplified several times over by your immediate supervisor being part of it – because he’s in an “authority” position. He should in NO WAY be part of having any of those conversations with your co-workers – except to also shut it down. You should absolutely go up the chain and to HR because there’s nothing about this that is “asking for a favor”. It’s about basic managerial expectations.

    And finally – it may feel awful right now. But someday, this is going to be the thing of legend – of how AWESOMELY you made them all blanch and shoved their faces in it. Because while you shouldn’t have had to do it – it was extremely effective. And you were 100% in the right as somebody who was dealing with ugly gossip about your actual medical condition that you are dealing with – even if that’s with less physical stress than your other co-worker. You still have a bunch of other emotional stress about it and the last thing you need to be faced with is such a lack of counter-support at a time when you just need general support and at the very least neutrality.

    1. nonegiven*

      Yes, I was wondering if the supervisor joining in instead of shutting it down constituted FMLA interference?

  77. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    OP, I’m so sorry your coworkers are such total shit-heads. You did absolutely nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for.

    If it helps, I have a friend who was in kidney failure and had to go for dialysis multiple times a week (he’s since received a kidney donation and is doing much better). He had a shit-heel coworker make a snide comment about how nice it must be to get to leave early 3 days a week. So he rolled up his sleeves and showed the port and the fistulas and the barely healed injuries and said ‘Yah, this is really nice.’

    Do report this – the behaviour on behalf of your coworkers is atrocious and you deserve so much better.

    I hope you continue to heal well, and wish you all the best.

  78. NewManagerNoClue*

    So much damn respect for you, OP. I dream of ways to embarrass the office gossips in my office about the rumors they spread.

    I know they’re embarrassed as hell. Lesson learned.

    I’m sure that word may have gotten around to your manager and/or HR and they chose not to address it because they felt you did nothing wrong. OR, they didn’t handle it correctly so they cannot reprimand you for sticking up for yourself.

  79. Breast Solidarity*

    From another person in treatment for breast cancer YOU GO GIRL!

    Thank you for standing up for all of us to the bullying!

  80. Abogado Avocado*

    OP, Alison is right. You’ve done nothing wrong here. Please take Alison’s advice and report this hostile work environment to HR immediately.

    I am so sorry you’ve got such lousy co-workers and hope the stress of dealing with them doesn’t impede your recovery. I wish you all the best in your continuing treatment.

  81. bluephone*

    I hope HR does the right thing and stand by OP because they did nothing wrong! Imagine the glassdoor review of that company:
    “employee with breast cancer was forced to expose their scars to coworkers after months of whisper accusations that she was faking it and other verbal harassment”

  82. TootsNYC*

    When you do report, you can stress that you have been quite happy with how the company itself has handled things and how they have supported you.

    But even if they weren’t concerned about any legal action, if they are decent people, surely they want to know about this harassment. I’d be mad that you were subjected to it. And mad that you felt you had to show them your scar.

    But if I were your manager or HR, I also would be mad that these people apparently think that I’m so stupid as to be granting unverified leave.
    and if I were you, I’d make that point–that their credibility and authority is being undermined by these people.

  83. Leslie Knope*

    This response is so validating. My former boss and coworker minimized my cancer when I was diagnosed (I was initially supposed to be cured by surgery) and my boss even threatened to write me up during the diagnosis process for being absent too frequently. I ended up feeling like I wasn’t sick enough. My surgery wasn’t curative, and I’ve had multiple rounds of treatment since and also a job change. My new employer is nothing but supportive and it’s such a nice change. A toxic workplace, especially during this kind of thing, has such a huge impact.

  84. Wilton Businessman*

    You are a bad ass mutherf####er!

    I admire how you handled it. Shut them up right away! If they’re going to fire you over it, then they are jerks, plain and simple.

  85. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    You did nothing wrong.
    Be mad/upset at THEM, not yourself.
    Not even for getting pushed to that point.

  86. CupcakeCounter*

    I really hope the silence is due to their overwhelming SHAME for their actions.
    OP – for those who are fighting cancers or other invisible disabilities, you are a freaking hero. You just went and proved to a bunch of people that just because they can’t see it doesn’t mean is doesn’t exist. Hopefully they learn from this and never, ever speculate about someone’s illness or disability again.

  87. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m practically foaming at the mouth over what you’ve been put through and how you’re feeling like any of this is on you to apologize for. Your coworkers and supervisor are vile monsters. And honestly, I would terminate someone who dismissed your cancer like this, it’s unacceptable behavior. You were bullied and accused of something immoral on top of that. People do lie about cancer but they’re rare and to assume anyone is lying is a really dark spot for them to go. Simply because you can go to a doctors appointment for a blood draw and still go to the grocery store, I just cannot.

  88. Hedgehug*

    Well, my jaw was dropped throughout my reading of this entire letter. Your co-workers are a bunch of trash bags and I am incredibly sorry you are being subjected to breathing the same air as them.

    You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for, or to be worried about. Your coworkers and company are very likely, currently terrified of you walking into work and slapping down a lawsuit on all of their desks, which is why they are keeping silent.

  89. Ciela*

    wow, they sound like a bunch of jackasses. Me, I would have told them to blank themselves the first week.

    If you are concerned about getting in trouble for “exposing” yourself, I do remember awhile ago that photos of women with surgical scars such as yours were NOT considered so explicit as to not be allowed on Facebook, and other tamer social media platforms.

    I hope your recovery continues to go well!

  90. CookieWookiee*

    OP, you are badass. I am in awe of your guts.

    Your supe and coworkers are asshats.

    Here’s to your continued recovery.

  91. almost empty nester*

    You can’t fix stupid. You can, and should, however report these asshats to HR. Like immediately. And with as much righteous indignation as when you showed your scars. You did nothing wrong. Their silence is probably humiliation…if not, they’re bigger asshats than we actually imagined.

  92. KitKat*

    Dear OP, you are awesome. Your coworkers and direct supervisor sound like bullying jerks and you should def approach HR about this.

  93. DCGirl*

    I once threw a police report, a hospital report, a doctor’s note, and photos of what was left of my car on my boss’s desk when she was snippy about me having to miss a mandatory training when 1) my father-in-law died and 2) I was hit by an 18-wheeler that made an unsafe lane change while I was returning home where I gone to buy a funeral-appropriate dress.

    So, OP, I thoroughly understand how fed up with your coworkers you were in that moment, and you have nothing to apologize for. I wish you nothing but the best in your continuing recovery.

    1. Candi*

      You have to wonder where these bad bosses’ heads are, that they act like even the most conscientious worker is just waiting to scam them in ways that are easily verified or disproven. Their minds must be terrible places to be.

      (My answer to that is to try and give the brain a good housecleaning and remove the trash -there’s no reason to keep garbage in your head when it messes up your thinking. Of course, some of it always sticks and won’t leave.)

      1. DCGirl*

        There was definitely a sense of “no one can have two major catastrophes in one day, so I’m not going to believe the second one.” Mind you, I had already explained two weeks earlier that my father-in-law had moved into hospice care and that I would need to be out of the office when that happened.

        1. James*

          It’s an old wive’s tale that bad things come in threes, but I’ve found that bad things really do tend to cluster. Maybe it’s the fact that when the first thing happens you get distracted, which puts you in a trigger state; maybe it’s nonlinear dynamics, or the red car thing (you’ll notice that there at more red cars than usual tonight, because I said “red car”). No clue. But I’ve found that once things go downhill, they don’t generally stop.

          1. Candi*

            My thinking is the universe has a demented sense of humor and a warped sense of timing.

            Or they’re playing craps and got a really unlucky run, and it all landed on the same person.

  94. starlight*

    I am so so so sorry you’re going through this. Report them as much as you can. This was not your fault. This really wasn’t.

    another survivor who didn’t have a “tv-show-cancer-storyline” cancer experience.

  95. Delphine*

    LW, your coworkers are terrible people. Words fail to express their terribleness. They owe you the mother of all apologies.

  96. wittyrepartee*

    Can I suggest that what you might be feeling upset about isn’t the action itself, but that you (very reasonably) were feeling very strongly about something and showed it? Under some circumstances it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that at work, but this really was provoked and a very upsetting situation.

    A lot of times when I’m upset about something I did, what I’m actually upset about is having shown my feelings about something in a way that wasn’t 100% controlled. But in this case, maybe that’s what needed to happen.

    1. DCGirl*

      I know I’m always upset with myself when someone else’s unprofessionalism or poor behavior provokes me into, for lack of a better word, sinking to their level.

  97. Lady Mary Crawley*

    I’m sorry to derail, but I hope this is an ok opportunity to tell people about breast prothesis that are meant for people who have had mastectomies. I’m not officially affiliated with them or anything, but I do knit them! Per people who wear/have worn these, they are lightweight and comfortable – and they’re free to people who need them!


    1. Dancing Otter*

      Yes, the knitted ones can be worn as soon as the incision heals enough to wear clothes. The “real” prostheses have to be fitted after the surgical site is fully healed, because the shape of the scar continues to change for several months after surgery.
      So, even people who intend to get a fitted prosthesis, or to have reconstruction, can benefit from the knitted version.
      Plus, some of the makers really fancy them up with colorful yarn or knitted designs (think fair isle or Scandinavian ski sweaters) that might bring a momentary smile in a grim situation.

  98. LKW*

    While normally removing one’s clothing at work is not a great idea – you did nothing wrong and you didn’t expose yourself. I’m not a lawyer but you could appear on TV in the US with your scar showing and as long as there is no nipple – there is no exposure. Nothing gets blurred. Heck, even on “Botched” they may tattoo nipples on to a woman who has lost hers to cancer or bad surgery and they can show the tattooed nipples with no blurring.

    Talk to your manager and HR. Tell them that you displayed your scars to shut down the nonsense flung at you. Because that’s all you did – you showed your scars, as if you had an appendix out or knee surgery. Tell them so that you frame the story and you control the narrative. Let them know that you’ve been subjected to this nonsense and while you hope that this curbs the issue, it is something they may want to address with the larger organization to ensure that no one is subjected to such petty and nonsensical behavior in the future.

  99. Campfire Raccoon*

    Dear OP- You are fantastic and your coworkers jerks. Screw them and their bullcrapery. Please know how amazing you are.

  100. Cheesehead*

    Yes, I’d definitely bring it up to HR that you feel that because of comments he’s made to you, you don’t feel the supervisor is capable of managing you fairly, given how he made derogatory comments about your cancer and also did nothing to stop other people from gossiping about you.

  101. Clawfoot*

    Oh my goodness, I could have written the beginning of this letter — breast cancer last year, single mastectomy got it all, minimum time off, no chemo or radiation, just some follow-ups and mammograms every 4 months — except that my co-workers were not HUMAN TRASH BAGS about it and I didn’t have to show my scar to anyone!


    You are fine, LW. It’s your awful coworkers who need to be worried.

    *cancer survivor fistbump of solidarity*

    1. KoiFeeder*

      My mother never did chemo. She needed a second mastectomy, later, but it actually looks like she got a second bout rather than the first cancer having metastasized.

  102. I'm just here for the cats*

    What I can’t get over is that your immediate supervisor is doing the gossiping and doesn’t think your telling the truth. Its one thing for coworkers to gossip and say your faking, since they wouldn’t have specific info about FMLA. You will get snarky people like that in most offices. But for your supervisor to be sayi g things too, and to sort of dismiss you with “oh the cancer thing again”! That is totally wrong and he should have shot it down the first time he heard other employees talking about you that way, not joined in. Go right to HR because this is a big violation that they need to know.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Exactly. A supervisor should know better. But, some supervisors are bullies and won’t learn until they actually face consequences for their actions.

  103. Ellie May*

    These awful people owe the OP a HUGE APOLOGY!!!

    That their un-ending gossiping drove her to show her cancer battle to shut them up in inexcusable.

  104. Duvie*

    Don’t you dare apologize to those snickering coworkers, or anybody else, for that matter! You couldn’t have given them a better comeuppance if you’d thought for a week. Live long and prosper!

  105. PharmaCat*

    Hugs to you OP. I am so sorry all this is happening.

    And also mention to HR the GoFundMe issue. There should be some consistency on this.

    If you hv a gofundme, please let us know.

  106. LogicalOne*

    I am sorry you had to be subject to such evil and ridiculous behavior from your coworkers. Cancer is something that should be taken seriously and the fact that there was skepticism among your immediate supervisor and coworkers makes you wonder if someone was the ring leader in this. In my experience, when there’s drama, there’s a ring leader that needs to be dealt with. Not everyone reacts to cancer the same way physically. My best friends mother had cancer but she didn’t lose any hair during the process. So to assume everyone experiences the same things is pretty narrow minded, like your coworkers. Pardon my french but f*ck what your coworkers and immediate supervisor think. They must have a lot of free time on their hands to even take the childish route and gossip about you and a serious topic. Their silence may indicate guilt or worry about what is to come or a combination of both things. I don’t blame you for blowing up like that and DON’T BE SORRY AT ALL!! There are still insensitive people in this world and you’re much better than they are. I hope karma bites them in the arse and HR takes care of their behaviors. It baffles me how people still exist that behave this way. SHame on them for creating a hostile work environment, harassing you and making you feel uncomfortable. Would love to hear what happened to your coworkers. Best of luck.

  107. boo bot*

    OP, you’re awesome, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure this. If your coworkers have any decency at all, their silence is due to overwhelming shame. If they don’t, at least they’re silent.

    This reminded me of the recent letter where the writer had gotten an anonymous call from someone claiming that her former coworker had lied about having cancer – the OP’s coworkers sure seem to prove that there’s a kind of person who might make that anonymous call, despite having no real knowledge of the situation.

    And, if I ever had to choose between (1) getting duped by someone actually lying about cancer, or (2) being the OP’s coworkers and harassing (or just disbelieving) someone who’s already going through an ordeal – I’d get duped every time.

  108. darsynia*

    Yes!! I’m so glad you posted. I remember recommending you post here when you posted about this on Reddit, because I KNEW that Alison would have good, reassuring advice, and boy did she! I firmly stand by my initial comments that you were not a jerk for your behavior, you didn’t ‘flash’ them or anything of the sort (even though I fully recognize that you see that part of your body the same way you always have, even though some tissue was removed), and your coworkers should feel ashamed for how they treated you.

    I hope the comments here and the official letter response help you feel better about how you handled this. You are human, you were hurt, you reacted accordingly, and I don’t think there was anything wrong in your actions.

    1. MonstrousFactorX*

      I’m glad you made this comment I thought my Deja Vu senses were tingling, and this is the same post that was on reddit.

      This whole situation was bonkers, it’s unfortunate they had to expose themselves but their coworkers had it coming.

  109. Lobsterp0t*


    OP, you absolutely are not (as literally everyone has said) in the wrong here.

    Your coworkers are a bunch of vindictive, nasty, disablist little amoebas and I hope they (and your manager/supervisor) get their asses handed to them.

    Whatever you decide to do, I hope you can ultimately stroll into the sunset of a resolved workplace situation knowing that you are 100% not the bad actor here. And I extra-super-duper hope that your treatments continue to(?) go well and that your coming months are blessed with health stability, and with BETTER COWORKERS.

  110. Ismonie*

    I am so sorry you went through this.

    The comedian Tig Notaro is also a breast cancer survivor, and has done at least one of her comedy specials with her shirt off, “Boyish Girl Interrupted.” You did nothing wrong.

    1. Candi*

      Was that the one where the Network Honchos said she couldn’t have nipples exposed because it would screw with their rating, and she sent them a pic of her shirtless saying, show me the nipples?

  111. Jan*

    My best friend didn’t “look” or “feel” like he had cancer either, until it was advanced enough for him to actually be worried enough to see a doctor for it. That’s what helped kill him at 39. What an ignorant bunch of wankers your colleagues are.

  112. Shrunken Hippo*

    Your coworkers should be ashamed of themselves. What you did is no different from people who have to take off their prosthetics to make rude people finally shut up. I admire that you were able to find a way to shut them down and I agree that you need to go to HR to report your coworkers and supervisor. What they were putting you through is disgusting and should never be tolerated.

  113. ap*

    They were talking about you where you could hear them. Beyond rude, even if they were just discussing your clothing choice for the day rather than something as literal life and death as your cancer.

    They probably thought they were shaming you. They were behaving in the weakest, most passive passive-aggressive behavior. They deserve to feel every bit as ashamed as they hopefully do.

  114. glenn coco*

    OP good for you!! I think you handled the timing of the situation perfectly and I’m horrified that none of your coworkers have approached YOU to apologise, shame on them! People who behave like that toward a coworker can absolutely go and blank themselves – you’re my new hero! I hope that you’re able to move past their shitty behaviour and continue to focus on you, your health and your work; it’s not your problem if they don’t believe you so no need to waste energy on them anymore.

    And while we’re at it: cancer can go blank itself too!!!! All the best OP, you’re an absolute hero!

  115. NewbieMD*

    You, OP, ROCK! The only think that could possibly have made your letter better would be is you had then proceeded to turn around, flip up your skirt, bend over and tell them to kiss your a$$. Seriously, you are awesome.

  116. West*

    OP, as a fellow woman with breast cancer, you have all my respect and support. I would have done worse to those coworkers given the chance. I’m sorry they’ve been putting you through that and I sincerely hope that your working environment improves soon. Keep on fighting and taking no sh*t.

  117. CatMintCat*

    Good for you, OP. You are my new hero.

    If there’s one thing I learnt through my breast cancer experience last year, it’s that everybody’s cancer and everybody’s treatment is different. I got off fairly lightly, and had nothing but support from my Principal and workmates (and the school community). For others it’s much harder, both medically and personally. Looking at me now, eight months after diagnosis, surgery, chemo and radiation, there is no visible difference, except my previously long hair is now short (very short, I hate it, but it’s presentable). Nobody has once queried the legitimacy of what happened, or any need for further apointments as time goes by.

    Hopefully your brave action will put their gossip to rest for good.

  118. PurpleMonster*

    Look on the bright side, at least it wasn’t testicular cancer that you exposed ;-)

    What you did was a remarkable example of returning awkward to sender. You should be saluted.

  119. His Grace*

    Thank you for your courage OP. You did the right thing. Talk to HR, and if they are halfway decent, they will stand by you. In the interim, I would start looking for a new employer. Your coworkers suck.

  120. Sally Forth*

    I cheered out loud for you. You were brave and frustrated and pushed to the limit. No need to feel bad.

    1. Old Admin*

      When reading about shocking and shutting the idiots down by showing the surgery scars, I nodded and quietly said “That was a GOOD thing.”
      My applause and Internet hugs to you, OP! You have maintained your self respect.
      There is a reason there is deadly silence in your office now – the harassers are shocked and ashamed now.
      And they are afraid you might report them for harassment! And YES, you should report them.
      *more hugs*

  121. Lilyp*

    If nothing else OP, thanks for giving us a great cautionary tale to link to next time someone writes in like “I’m 1000% positive my coworker is faking their illness because (vague anecdotal evidence and secondhand speculation) how do I EXPOSE their UNFAIR FAKERY”. I’m sorry this has been so stressful, you did nothing wrong <3

  122. Amethystmoon*

    People are jerks. I hope the OP’s HR department is good though, because I can see it going sideways in a messed up company. Messed up companies do exist.

  123. pcake*

    OP, you did the right thing – I admire the hell out of you!

    How DARE those poor excuses for human beings that you work with doubt that you’ve experienced a life threatening disease? Your supervisor will be lucky if you don’t sue him, and goodness knows he deserves it. What a boil on the backside of humanity he is.

    You rock!

  124. Sleve McDichael*

    OP, if you came from reddit, you might not know that people often send in updates to Alison. You mentioned your immediate supervisor as one of the people who didn’t believe you, so while I can’t speak for Alison, I suspect she would give you more advice if you encounter retaliation later, and her advice is always very good. In all likelihood that won’t happen unless your company is very rubbish, but don’t be afraid to ask again on the slight chance it does. I do hope we never hear from you again unless you choose to write in a happy update, though. Best wishes!

  125. LGC*

    I think a huge part of the issue is that another coworker was diagnosed with breast cancer immediately after mine and isn’t recovering as quickly as me. She is much more of the cancer patient you expect: chemo, hair loss, multiple surgeries, etc. I didn’t experience any of that.

    Shame on you for not doing breast cancer The Right Way, LW. Clearly, this is all your fault because you weren’t sick enough.

    /sarcasm, in case I needed to make it obvious because seriously, what the everloving hell.

    Anyway. So, 400 comments later, I should probably say: you can’t salvage this. Not because you did anything bad or wrong. But your team is awful and they’ve already thoroughly burned that bridge to ashes. (You just happened to try to walk across it and then promptly fell through into the river.) I really hope your manager and HR can help you transfer to a different team. And in the case this does come up, I think that whatever “wrong” you did (using a Bad Word, angrily flashing your surgery scar at the worst coworkers of the year) is far outweighed by what they did (a continued campaign against you for having the audacity to have cancer and have a relatively quick recovery from it).

    And also – I get how you feel. I haven’t done this in my work life much, but I have mic dropped online. 99% of the time, it doesn’t go quite as awesome as it seems from a distance. You didn’t handle it in a way that you would have wanted, and it’s reasonable that you feel the need to crawl in the Shame Cave. You shouldn’t do that because – again – you’re not the party that has anything to be ashamed of here. But it does make some sense.

    1. LGC*

      Also – as someone who’s in a similar position to your direct supervisor (where he’s more of a project manager than a personnel manager): it is awkward, because in my case, my manager doesn’t divulge personal information to me and she’s been visibly uncomfortable with me knowing it. (Which happens on occasion. You spend 8 hours a day with people and you hear things sometimes.) So I do often pretend that I have no idea what’s going on (and often I legitimately don’t know what’s going on because I try to avert my eyes).

      It does not release me from the duty of being a decent human being. And whatever doubts I might have about whether someone is really sick I keep to myself – I’m a project manager, not a doctor, and I’m not in a position to judge either way.

  126. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

    I also had breast cancer similar to the LW. Once I learned I wasn’t stage 4 and my oncotype showed I didn’t need chemo, I worried quite a bit that my coworkers would not believe me. This is a nightmare situation and I feel for the letter writer.
    Some of my coworkers/friends visited my when I was recovering, and they saw my one sided flat chest without prosthetic. This might have helped avoid the same situation for me.
    If the LW ever feels up to it, I would like to read a follow up, as I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation.

  127. DamienF*

    I had uterine/ovarian cancer, caught very early on, and required some fairly harsh chemo, but thankfully did not have much effect (I had more trouble with the steroids, which caused me to gain so much weight), although I have a 13in scar down my abdominal area. (I also lost hair, but cut it short and kept it shaved to avoid issues for myself)

    I would react similarly if anyone had claimed I was faking. I know that there are people who do, but I feel that the idea that you don’t look “a certain way” is ridiculous. Some people will have what people consider the “cancer” look, but many won’t. There are a lot of measures in place to try to help with that, but even then it doesn’t always help some people. But MANY of the men and women at the cancer center I attended for my chemo, looked just like the average person, no indicators of their suffering.

    Strength to you, OP, and agreed, I don’t think you need to apologize at all.

  128. ResuMAYDAY*

    I would report the harassment of your coworkers and boss to the company, and to the ADA. While you have nothing to be ashamed about, report that their behavior drove you to act in a manner that’s way outside of your normal self.
    I’m so sorry this is happening this to you. Please follow up and let us know the next chapter.

  129. Scarlett10is*

    Oh my goodness OP, I am so incredibly sorry for what your awful coworkers have put you through! There treatment of you has been revolting; the whisper campaign, the comparison between you and your colleague who also has cancer (btw are your coworkers oncologists who have trained and practiced medicine for decades and KNOW what cancer looks like?!), your boss’s dismissive and hurtful comments, etc. Sending you beams of goodwill and compassion! Also I say talk to a lawyer about what you’ve been experiencing, and I hope everyone STFU and you never hear this nonsense again.

  130. Random IT person*

    Dear OP,

    Sorry for all this you are going through.
    If you take advice from random people on the internet – here is my 2 cents:
    YOU have done NOTHING wrong. You got sick (sucks) and you recovered (party time!).

    What is wrong, obscene,and most likely illegal is how your direct supervisor and your coworkers treated you.

    So, now they are silent – and probably still thinking the scars are fake or something (given what you describe, I would not put that past them) – so the behavior may return at any one point.
    So, follow AAMs advice. Talk with HR – as what happened to you is so wrong..

    I hope your recovery is not hindered by this display of infantile bullying – and again – please, talk with HR about this.

  131. RudeRabbit4U*

    I admire your courage and bravery. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, and I cannot echo enough how you did absolutely nothing wrong. Please report it immediately and seek legal council if your employer turns this on you instead of protecting you. Everyone should also check out this article on Ericka Hart: https://www.self.com/story/ericka-hart
    She had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and now is a public voice for acceptance, self-love, and overall awareness.

  132. RB*

    “I got tired of listening to their snickering so I went into the office where they were and I lifted my shirt, exposing the scars on my chest. I then told them to go blank themselves and returned to my office.”

    I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to read this paragraph. Thank you, LW, and this is from a fellow sufferer of BC.

  133. RB*

    In fact, I feel like we need a new top-10 list for year-end that is the letter writers we most admire, or were inspired by.

  134. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    First, YOU. ROCK. You stood up for yourself in the face of petty, petty BS.
    Second, here’s what I did when I found out that my seventh-grade mean girl coworkers thought I was faking chronic illness: I documented what I heard, from whom and when, and I went to a ABA-recommended attorney who specialized in employment law. (You can look up local reputable lawyers who will do a first consultation for free or really reduced price — I paid thirty bucks — from the ABA website. He confirmed that my complaints were harassment under the ADA.

    The, I went to the EEOC. I did not file a complaint, but rather just opened a file. I felt so much better knowing that the law was on my side. I only had to mention once, to a rotten supervisor trying to get on my case for taking sick time. After she snottily told me how I needed to not take so much time, I said, “Well, there may be a legal problem with that.” We had a brief conversation, during which she became more and more nervous even though I didn’t even have to tell her I’d to a lawyer and the EEOC. I think she could tell that I knew what I was talking about for a reason.

    Things happened over the next few weeks; I complied with every HR request and continued to be a great worker. I have not gotten any BS from anyone since — and both the rotten supervisor and her even more rotten boss are both GONE.

  135. Des*

    What is WRONG with people? How does someone get to a place where they make fun of their coworker’s cancer? This isn’t a first letter on here that I see with a similar attitude and I’m shocked and appalled. I hope your coworkers feel as guilty as they should about their treatment of you.

  136. Former Employee*

    I love this OP!

    It’s amazing how someone can work in an office and yet be surrounded by pound scum.

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