A Deeper Dive into What It’s Like to Come to Work with a Serious Illness: And It’s Impact.

A Deeper Dive into What It’s Like to Come to Work with a Serious Illness: And It’s Impact.

If you’ve never had a previous serious illness, you might want to learn a few things about the impact that it has … On the person, on their loved ones and on their Company. It actually is huge.

For example,

I remember when my Mother was in her 60’s. Like other women, she still worked. She was single, needed to make a living. Although my brother was grown and out of the house … he was 26 when he was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma. That was in November and he was gone by the next November. I was the older sister. He was the “baby” brother. I lived in Chicago and he moved back to Miami to be closer to Mom. So, I was on the phone every day with Mom, with him AND, I had a full-time job as a professor at a small university. Oh, and I had an 8-month-old baby at home.

From a Mother’s perspective, even to a grown child, what I observed in my Mom’s ability to handle it all was beyond awful. She would go to work every day, filled with sadness and yet hope that maybe a cure would come. She and I were in constant contact, but remember, no cell phones operated then … so it was all long distance.

Long story short, she only lived a couple more years after his death. In the interim, she was depressed, not functioning well, not taking care of herself = Not working to her potential

Let’s bring this closer to home. 

If anyone close to you OR you has or has had a serious illness, e.g. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinsons’ MS … anything like that, you are experiencing some of the following:



Feelings of helplessness


Exhaustion (especially if you are the caretaker)

And, if YOU are the one with the illness, you have all of those feelings too AND a couple more …

    •     Fear
    •     Financial concerns
    •     How to tell and help your children/family handle it
    •     The full symptoms and fathoms of the Illness
    •     Not knowing what to say to your peers at work
    •     Exhaustion

So, if there is any doubt to the fact that people with illness (their own or that of a loved one) have to handle their responsibilities at work well and why they aren’t always doing a great job.… THINK AGAIN.

Now imagine that that person holds a very high-level position. He/ she knows that everyone there knows about the illness (it’s hard to keep it secret). People avoid him/her, not knowing what to say or pass him by with a mumble.

How about changing the way you communicate? What are things you could say to anyone … the person with the illness or a family member?

Here are a few examples:

    •     “I’m thinking of you today.”
    •     “Let us know if there’s anything you need.”
    •     Can I help you with something?

Is there anything you need me to “cover for you at work?

Don’t run away and avoid them. They already feel uncomfortable and avoided because people don’t know what to do or say. So, do something they can appreciate … something nice. If they are feeling ill, offer a ride. If they seem lonely, suggest going out for a meal. In other words, be a fellow human being on this planet.

Now, on another note, and this is important:

it’s quite possible that they don’t want any attention. If that’s the case, then honor that.. allow them to navigate their experience on their time and in their own way.

The point of all this is this:

It takes compassion and the positive qualities of being a “caring human being” to be there for your -coworkers. Truth be known:  The odds are that at least 40 – 60% of any of us gets a major illness. Next time, it might be you, or someone you love, right? So think, “how would I want to be treated?”


Ann Fry, MSW, PCC, is an executive leadership coach and speaker. She has extensive experience in organizations of all sizes, both training and coaching their high potential and leadership teams. She is a cancer survivor and now spends much of her time specializing in taking this information and training into companies. Her website is: annfry.com and her email is ann@annfry.com

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Ann Fry

Ann Fry, MSW, PCC has been working within organizations as a change management specialist and a leadership coach. She is known for creating change through chaos. She disrupts systems so they can then reboot and shift. She is also a cancer survivor who coaches high-level individuals thru their cancer (or other serious illness) issues as they struggle to balance work, family and career. She recently launched http://www.workplacecancercoaches that offers coaching for employees with major serious illness. It is very new and in the process of launching. She is a regular blogger for Workology.


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