Yesterday I announced my illness to my wider community of friends and colleagues. Support from them has been amazing, both in terms of their direct responses, and the responses from people who I didn’t think I knew very well who have found out by word of mouth and have subsequently sent me their best wishes too. I spent 4 hours last night writing replies to them all.
However, as someone who has worked in this company for some 20-odd years now (how did that happen?) I know a vast number of people well enough to nod and say hello to as I walk around the various office corridors.
Often we’ll exchange a few pleasantries, ask after each others families etc.
But what on earth do you say when someone you only know slightly is walking the other way, and says “Hi, how are you?”. In most cases, they expect something along the lines of “Fine, yourself?” said with barely a break in step. Do I say, “Not great, I’ve got cancer”? Or not mention it? If I do pick the former approach, what kind of impact does that have on them & their day? They can’t keep on walking (well not without being obviously rude!) but then having stopped, what more can they say to me?
I think there should be a convention here. Lets call it office etiquette for employees with serious illnesses. I’m going to lie to all those people, and continue to say that I’m fine. I don’t want to ruin their day, and honestly, I’m not sure that I want to provoke all those awkward conversations where they don’t know what to say to me. Because actually there is nothing that they really can say anyway …