As RNs, we are expected to talk with our patients about their cancer diagnosis. However, when cancer strikes a close colleague, it may be hard to know the "right response." Some people prefer not to talk about their condition for fear of being treated differently, while others may be open and may want to discuss the details of their illness. An individual's desire for privacy should always be respected.
Unfortunately, we have had four faculty members diagnosed with cancer within the last three years. Each has reacted differently, from silence to frank discussion.
What to say
For some people, the news of a colleague being diagnosed can affect their own emotions and fears. Bad news about cancer can cause friends and colleagues to become distanced at a time when they are needed most in a listening mode.
The extent of your involvement depends upon the nature of your relationship prior to the cancer diagnosis. It is important to determine how close you are with the coworker. Is this someone you have worked with for years who is a friend? Is this someone who you only greet in passing? Take cues from your colleague, tune in, and focus on their reaction. If they seem reluctant to talk, respect that desire. It is natural to feel awkward, sad, fearful, and angry because of disbelief.
What to do
Do not be so afraid of doing the wrong thing that you do nothing, especially if you are eager to help your colleague. Lessen your stress by admitting your awkwardness. You might say: "I don't know if this is the right thing to do but..." You will soon find out.
Never underestimate the power of a simple greeting card or note. A simple, "We miss you," goes a long way to lifting spirits. During my medical leave for chemotherapy, the highlight of my day was the mail and receiving a funny card. A good laugh can lighten the burden of feeling ill and unable to work. One special friend consistently found the cutest animal cards which I looked for every week and smiled. One particular card featuring a puppy dog with a hot water bottle on his head would become my symbol when not feeling well. It simply conveyed to my seven-year-old granddaughter that I was not feeling well. Such notes may also be sent by email or text.
Offer to reduce work strain. Try to offer to do a specific task rather than just saying, "Let me know if I can do anything." I greatly appreciated a colleague taking the initiative to cover my course. Her willingness was a tremendous relief that I will never forget. Another colleague was kind enough to take over the administrative responsibility for managing my advisees. Both of these offers were done without my asking. This was so intuitive of these special friends. The support of my colleagues relieved my concerns about my work responsibilities and assisted in my acceptance of the fact that I could not return to work while receiving chemotherapy.
Become the "point person" between the worker and other colleagues. While on leave, the worker is not connected to her job. For many of us, our identity and self esteem are attached to our ability to work. Hearing updates from the job and knowing about what changes and activities occurred allowed me to still feel a part of the group and not so isolated. I was very fortunate to have the same two colleagues take the initiative to text and email me weekly. This was welcomed and allowed me to share my progress and plans for the coming semester.
Work is a very important part of many people's lives. Besides income, it provides satisfaction and a chance to be with working colleagues. Returning to work as soon as they are physically able is one way people try to make their lives feel normal again. The greatest benefit many employees with cancer gain from their colleagues is emotional support.
The 2013 Nurse Compensation Survey Results Are In Michelle Bragazzi, BS, RN, 5/3/2013 32 In February, TheONC surveyed more than 600 oncology nurses to find out more about their careers. We wanted to know if they felt adequately compensated and satisfied within their ...
TheONC needs moderators!
You're already here -- why not make it official? Moderators are charged with moving the conversation forward on TheONC by posting responses, questions, and joining in exchanges. Everyone is encouraged to post here, but moderators commit to doing so. Interested in participating? Contact:
Nurses, this community is for you. We're also happy to hear from other professionals who work with oncology nurses, like physicians, psychiatrists, hospice providers, or social workers. If you are a professional in oncology and work with nurses regularly, come on in.