Dear Sharon – March 2019

Q. I am so sad, one of my most beloved teammates just quietly told me that she has been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis does not sound good. She’s asked that I keep it quiet for now until she figures out the next steps. I just don’t know what to do or how to help in my role as chief human resource officer. I know I should help our organization to prepare since she holds a significant role in our firm, but she doesn’t want the president to know about her illness. Any words of advice?

A.  I am so sorry for everyone involved. Finding out one has an illness is tough, and this sounds like she is in for an uphill battle. First, I believe you must honor her request for time to gather her thoughts. I’m sure she is full of all kinds of emotions right now including fear, worry, sadness, regret and the list goes on. While I know it is important that the company ultimately does some contingency planning and you want to be a good steward of your firm, allowing your teammate some time to process is a normal and fair request.

A couple of thoughts come to mind. She has confided in you. You can be her sounding board as a friend and teammate in helping her to put together the contingency plan for getting herself through treatment and still maintaining some semblance of a work life. The reality is that most teammates handle news like this almost as if they didn’t  hear it: They avoid talking about it or worse,  avoid conversation with the person at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. By embracing the facts and being willing to have loving and candid discussion, you will help your teammate to process through alternatives and help her to not feel shunned just because she has cancer.

No one likes the “C” word, but unfortunately this is a real fact in today’s society. Be loving, a good listener and professional. By doing so, you too will have no regrets and you will be exactly what she needs right now — a friend.

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