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Easing Return-to-Work Angst

Returning to work after a cancer experience can ease income worries but can also expose other emotional issues.

BY Charlotte Huff
PUBLISHED December 16, 2013

Frequently, people with health issues, such as cancer, will fret about the sorts of questions that might be asked by well-meaning colleagues, says Stephanie Smith, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices near Denver. “How much do I want to reveal to folks? How much do I want to keep private? How many times can I answer the same questions? It becomes a huge stressor.”

Smith frequently advises her patients to develop a short script before that first day—one that’s courteous but doesn’t invite further questioning.

One such line: “Thank you so much for asking. I’m glad to be back to work.” Another possibility: “All of the support I’ve gotten has meant so much to me. I’m glad to be here.”

With that script in a mental pocket, the employee hopefully doesn’t have to worry so much about a co-worker initiating an awkward conversation at the bathroom sink or in the hallway. It may even be possible to turn such a conversation into a more pleasant discussion, taking the focus off cancer and onto work performance or common goals.

“They find it so exhausting to kind of dredge up all of this emotional stuff every time someone asks,” Smith says. “It’s almost like an armor, to give you a feeling of control.”

[Read more on working after cancer in "Tackling Work After a Cancer Diagnosis"]

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