Cancer at work: how to support your colleague?


The Union for International Cancer Co trol (UICC) declared 4 February World Cancer Day. On that day, in the year 2000, the first World Summit against Cancer was held in Paris. This makes it the day par excellence for people to commemorate cancer: its many varieties and above all its patients.

To bring extra attention to this day, Smart Media Agency spoke with emino. Emino is a specialised centre for educational advice and meditation that offers Rentree guidance to people diagnosed with cancer. Their coaches offer support in rehabilitating the patient into the labour market or in finding a new, fitting position. The employer and their network are actively involved in this process with the aim of optimising rehabilitation for all stakeholders.

The lives of people who were diagnosed with cancer change overnight. Many of these people are working adults. As the risk of cancer increases with age and our working lives are growing longer, there is a high probability that cancer will occur during someone’s career. The majority (60-80%) of cancer survivors can and want to get back to work. Working with or after cancer, however, is not a given. In other words, work resumption is a very important issue both to (ex)patients and employers.

It is vital for a cancer survivor to be well informed about their rights and responsibilities. And as a company, it is of crucial importance to be aware and get informed about the rights and needs of the colleague involved.

To Smart Media Agency, our colleagues, the people who are with us every day, are our family. We share both positive and difficult times with each other and want to support each other. This support is unconditional but we always want to learn more about how to best express that support. For example, we attended an information session about ‘Cancer at work’ on 11 February 2022. Seeds of Happiness and emino organised this session to raise awareness around World Cancer Day. We were able to learn about the disease and how to support colleagues and loved ones during their period with and after cancer.

During this session, we had the pleasure of meeting Monique van Opstal, an emino employee. She shared her own experience of this trying period with us. To create more awareness, help others in their battle against cancer and emphasise the importance of cancer research, Monique likes to share her story and supports various organisations committed to this cause. This remarkable story helped us put unmeasurable things into perspective.

For example, Monique explained that when you have cancer, nights are the worst part of the day: “You’re all alone with your thoughts while dealing with indescribable pain”. She also shared the difficulties she had experienced at work. For example, her employer at the time decided that she would have to be replaced for the entire duration of her treatment in the same week of her diagnosis. Though they informed her carefully and she knew rationally that this was the only correct way to communicate at that moment in time, it was still a huge mental blow. Her job security was gone. This put the first dent into her confidence level.

During her work rehabilitation process and recovery from the disease, Monique was coached by a Rentree specialist who helped her get back on her feet. The most important thing Monique taught us was how to approach and support a colleague or loved one with a cancer diagnosis more realistically. After all, it isn’t about us or our feelings towards the patient. It’s about them and how we can help. For example, Monique noticed that her loved ones would sometimes ignore her when they met. In hindsight, it turns out they simply didn’t know what to say or do. And according to Monique, saying nothing is the worst thing you can do. “If you don’t really know what to say, how to phrase it or you don’t know whether or not you can ask something, just say so. Honesty is appreciated and it will kick-off a conversation automatically.”

Our CEO, Christian Nikuna Pemba, asked Monique for a concluding message she would like to share with young people at the end of the information session. Her answer was simple yet so powerful: “Live your life to the fullest!”

“Everyone has baggage. Mine is different from yours but that doesn’t make it any easier or more difficult. What remains important for us all, is to maintain a sense of perspective. You can’t keep carrying the burden in your head, you can’t keep digging. Of course, it’s fine and even natural to have moments when you do, but afterwards you need to make sure to give your life purpose again and live it to the fullest!” – Monique van Opstal

We would like to thank emino for this opportunity and especially Monique, for inspiring us with her story. As Seeds of Happiness, we consider it our duty to give back to the community as well as to our partners. That is why we are happy to share the expertise of emino via our platform.

One of our journalists, Nieke, also interviewed emino and one of their partners in the context of Taalboost. Veerle Renier, job coach with emino, and Richard Garot, team leader with work and educational company KonnecteD, talked about communicating with a language barrier at work.  Read this article on Fokus Online and learn all about this (sometimes stubborn) barrier.

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