By Dr. Bill Jenaway, Ph.D. Executive Vice President Education, Training & Consulting
When someone is told that they have cancer, many thoughts will go through their mind. “How do I tell my family, my friends, and my boss?” Even before you begin treatment, protocols or surgery recommended by your physician, it’s best if you inform a few people what is happening to you. Some will feel an urgent need to communicate, while others will want to wait. In either scenario, people will communicate when they are ready.
In the fire service, we should not only be ready to be told that someone has cancer, but we should know how to respond to and support those who are diagnosed with cancer. What would you do, as an officer, if someone came up to you and said, “Chief, I have cancer.”
Understanding how to respond when someone tells you that they have cancer helps with the situation.
There is no predefined time that someone will feel ready to communicate the message, so you should simply be prepared to hear it and know how to respond.
At the time this program was created, the most comprehensive and effective resources to communicate and support the firefighter, other members, and family, came from three sources:
• The physician
• The American Cancer Society
• The Firefighter Cancer Support Network
All three have resources to help firefighters and their families cope with cancer, from diagnosis, to treatment, to recovery. Peer-support members can also play a critical role in working through the process. Details on resources available can be obtained at:
As a firefighter, emergency medical responder, officer or chief, it is important to provide support to the person diagnosed with cancer. Job roles may change, duties may change, tasks may have to be picked up by others, but positive support to the cancer patient should never waiver.
As an officer or chief, you should not wait until someone approaches you and states they have cancer before you develop a response and action plan. Just like any other staff illness or injury, you are expected to be supportive and provide guidance. Reach out to the American Cancer Society and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network to understand the situation, implement best practices and find any related training you may need.1
Remember, understanding how to respond when someone tells you they have cancer helps with the situation.
1 Firefighter Cancer Support Network materials; reprinted in extract here by permission of FCSN.
Credits: FCSN: We help firefighters and their families cope with cancer. FCSN, firefightercancersupport.org