Health awareness

Supporting colleagues working with cancer

There are so many unknowns after a cancer diagnosis — whether or not you receive support at work shouldn’t be one of them

April 14, 2023

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Chet Kitchen in hospital bed
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Chet Kitchen had no idea how his battle with cancer would affect his work. Our colleague of 23 years and director of global regulatory policy wasn’t used to missing big meetings and presentations for hospital visits and oncology appointments.

“It’s a constant balance between trying to focus on work and trying to focus on your health,” said Kitchen. “That’s where having a good company to support you and colleagues who appreciate you and look out for you can make the difference.”

Kitchen is a head and neck cancer survivor. After following his doctor’s treatment plan for stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil, he was told there was no evidence of disease. But a year later, the cancer returned, and he was put on a new treatment plan.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck makes up about 90% of all cases of head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancer can begin in or around the throat, voice box, sinuses, mouth and salivary glands. Symptoms may include a lump in the neck or sore in the mouth or throat that does not heal or may be painful, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. 

Impact of cancer on careers

“One of the most important things a company can do to support a colleague living with cancer is to listen and understand their needs,” Kitchen said.

“To have the opportunity to take time off was so important,” he said. “My company gave me the flexibility to take care of my emotional needs by allowing me to focus on my health when I needed to, but also to focus on work when I didn’t want to think about cancer.”

Ongoing employment and return to work may help promote a sense of normalcy and control for cancer patients.

“Being diagnosed with cancer may hurt your career or make it more challenging,” Kitchen said.

“But working for our company really invigorated me. I can really appreciate the work that we do and how it impacts patients.”

Why we support the Working with Cancer pledge

At Merck, we’re dedicated to supporting people living and working with cancer around the world. We’re proud to be an accredited CEO Cancer Gold Standard employer and a founding member of the Working with Cancer pledge to help provide a more open, supportive and recovery-forward culture at work for cancer patients like Kitchen.

Chet Kitchen

Today, Kitchen’s cancer is in remission, but that doesn’t mean his patient journey is over.

“Even though you’re not physically battling cancer, it never really leaves you because it’s always somewhere in your mind,” he said. “But one of the things that’s really helped me emotionally through my survivorship is sharing my story.”