Forty per cent of people with cancer in the UK have used annual leave for their appointments rather than telling their employer it is for cancer treatment, according to a new survey from cancer support charity Maggie’s.
The survey, of 100 people with cancer, was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the charity to help understand how people with cancer can be better supported in the workplace – by employers and their colleagues.
It also found that almost a quarter (22%) of people only told their colleagues about their diagnosis once it became apparent due to treatment.
The main reasons for not telling colleagues were not wanting to be treated differently by colleagues (20%), worried it might distract colleagues and affect team productivity (20%) and wanting to keep medical condition private (20%). Ten per cent of those surveyed did not feel supported by their employers when they told them about their diagnosis.
Ian, 51 from Forth Valley was diagnosed with stage 4 oesophageal cancer in 2022.
He said: “Having cancer was a shock for someone like me who had never had a sick day in their life. After I told my colleagues, I got an email from the sales team with lots of supportive messages. It put me in tears.
“Some people were quite awkward talking about cancer and I felt I had to reassure them that it was okay and I was happy for them to talk about it.
“My employer actually handled my diagnosis and treatment quite well. I waited until after my first course of chemotherapy to work out a plan with the HR department.
“Yvonne, the centre head at Maggie’s Forth Valley also helped to guide me and told me to see how it goes because there might be a point when I wouldn’t feel able to carry on. She reassured me that I didn’t have to work all the way through my treatment. I worked until my operation and then had six months to recover.
“During this time, the brain fog was overwhelming. To help with this I would write everything down. When I went back to work – on a bad day, I would shut my laptop down and drive to Maggie’s.”
Dame Laura Lee, Chief Executive of Maggie’s said: “Telling anyone you have cancer can be a really scary and overwhelming thing to do but telling your employers and colleagues adds another level of stress.
“People coming into our centres tell us that they worry about job safety, being treated differently and knowing what they can or should say about taking time off for treatment and appointments, and these are all really valid worries that our staff can help with.
“Everyone diagnosed with cancer should be aware that they have employment rights but also know that also they don’t have to tell colleagues until they’re ready, if at all.
“Our professional staff can help you figure out when the time is right to discuss your cancer, and what to say and to who. They can also advise on your rights, returning to work and financial support when you’re out of work.”
Maggie’s professional staff include psychologists, cancer support specialists and benefits advisors, all of whom offer free advice on everything from treatment choices, stress, anxiety and talking to friends, family and employers.
The centres also run Cancer in the Workplace courses to help employers understand the needs of employees with cancer or who have family and friends with cancer.
Since Maggie’s opened its first centre in 1996, the charity has developed a programme of support that is proven to help people with cancer, as well as family and friends, take back control and to help make the hard conversations a little easier.
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