Disclosing Cancer to Employers: Survivors Share Their Reasons to Tell or Not to Tell


Cancer survivors shared why they disclosed — or didn’t disclose — their cancer diagnosis to their employers.

While United States law states that individuals do not have to tell their employers about a cancer diagnosis — or any other health complications — many people decide to inform their workplaces about their disease, especially when treatment requires taking time off or special accommodations. On the other hand, other people decided to keep their cancer a secret due to personal reasons or the fear of being stigmatized.

In a recent #CUREConnect post on social media, we asked our audience of patients and survivors of cancer: Did you disclose your cancer diagnosis to your workplace? Why or why not?

Disclosing a Cancer Diagnosis for Time Off, Accommodations

“I did tell my employer. It made getting time off for treatment much easier and they were very understanding. Plus, would have been hard to hide once I lost all my hair.” — Kate L.

“I was very hesitant, but it was the best decision I made. They were supportive and very understanding of needing time off, etc. If I didn’t tell them, it would have made everything A LOT harder.” — Lindsay B.

“I did! I live in Portugal and I’m a nurse. I’m not obligated to disclose but I felt that I needed to because I needed to have a different work environment. … I was working at a ward where I was being constantly exposed to infectious diseases and sometimes patient’s physical aggression due to psychiatric issues. … Also, I was working on constant shift changing schedules and my oncologist advised me to adopt a regular sleep pattern to help coping with the hormonal imbalances my (neuroendocrine tumor) was causing… so I really had no choice but to disclose to force the hospital to move me to unit where my schedule would be kept as a daily shift only. I’ve been dealing with my metastatic (neuroendocrine tumor) for almost 10 years now and have been able to keep working just because of that simple change.” — Andreia N.

Supportive Colleagues

Quote" "I have retired but  would like to work again,  but I fear whether I  should disclose that I  am still considered  a cancer patient." -Leona W.

A recent #CUREConnect post asked cancer survivors if they shared their diagnosis with their employers.

“I was teaching second grade. I initially thought I would be out on sick leave (including [double mastectomy] with reconstruction) after our winter break and return in February. Still, I had to do six chemo rounds followed by 28 days of radiation treatments. My students, their parents and the staff were fabulous and encouraging. The students wrote letters, made cards and called me when I could talk. The team sent care baskets. I have retired but would like to work again, but I fear whether I should disclose that I am still considered a cancer patient.” — Leona W.

“I am usually a private person, but I felt a clear guidance to share. I was working for a large insurance company and in a director-level position. I worked from home, and I did work during treatment. My employer and so many in my company were so supportive. I was grateful for all their kindness, and it sure did help during the challenging days.” — Ann M.

“I told them (this was almost 24 years ago). My boss told me I could take off as many days as I needed, and I’d still be paid. It was a very liberal, non-corporate office in the Village (NYC). I even went bald there. I’m forever grateful to my boss and co-workers.” — Carol R.

“My boss was with me when I got the call and drove me back for my follow-up appointment and blood work. I was so grateful that he treated me like a daughter and held my hand through it. I was barely 26 and terrified. He helped me break the news to my parents.” — A cervical cancer survivor

Choosing Not to Disclose or Facing Stigma

“No, (I did) not (disclose my diagnosis) initially. Reasons: first I felt I may not get hired, second, I wanted to be recognized for my true capabilities, third I did not want pity. I eventually told my bosses I am a stage 4 cancer patient after I had worked for well over a year.” — Colleen Y.

“I did not disclose. I felt vulnerable. I felt people would begin to get nosy and ask what stage my cancer was in, and whether I was up to continuing employment.” — Ron Cooper, a CURE® contributor

“Many stigmas still exist around illness in the workplace in terms of productivity, etc. I know of patients who have been looked over for promotions when the only difference is their medical history and not performance. Also, for someone like me, with a ton of experience, acknowledging that I have any form of ‘disability’ or opting out has only prevented hiring managers from moving forward with me when up against a comparable candidate who checked the box, ‘I do not have a disability.’ There are laws that are supposed to protect against discrimination, but we know better.” — Katie B.

“To my employer, yes, (I did disclose my diagnosis). Not too much to my coworkers. I didn’t want to stress a colleague who has terminated her treatment.” — Magek K.

Follow CURE® on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to see our weekly #CUREConnect question, and join the conversation.

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