Earlier this week, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts announced that she is facing a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), believed to be the result of the radiation therapy she received to treat her breast cancer five years ago. She’ll be undergoing stem cell treatment and a bone marrow transplant from her sister, who is a match.
Her courage is once again inspirational. During her battle with cancer, she worked throughout and shared her breast cancer treatment and recovery with the public in intimate detail, keeping a public video journal that offered awareness, education and inspiration to millions. Her decision to publicly share her new challenge has already made a difference, motivating many to take action. We’ll all be learning more about MDS, a relatively rare blood disorder, through her story and we’ll be learning more about bone marrow transplants. Roberts was fortunate to have a marrow match in her sister. Every year, 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant, but only half receive one. African Americans have more of a challenge with a donor match – a 66% chance, versus 92% for Caucasians. Since her announcement, donor registrations have skyrocketed. You can register to donate bone marrow at the National Marrow Donor Registry at Be the Match. Learn more: What’s It Like: To donate bone marrow or blood stem cells.
Cancer in the workplace: supporting colleagues
One of the other striking things about Roberts’ announcement is how she was surrounded and embraced by her colleagues. Their concern and support is readily evident, as it was throughout her breast cancer treatment and recovery.
Below, we are reprinting a post on Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues.
If you’ve ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We’ve compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.
Managing Through Cancer Principles – offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness. (This resource is part of a site called Cancer and Careers, which has many resources, tools, and a support network for empowering and educating people with cancer to thrive in their workplace – see the video clip at the end of this post).
Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don’t know what to say or how to deal with the person – so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.
Top 10 Dos and Don’ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.
Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don’ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.
Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.
How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts – people who are living/have lived through real life situations.
Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources – be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers a wide variety of support resource for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn’t have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.


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