It is often in our most challenging moments that we grow. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2020 in the middle of a pandemic and I’ve decided to share how my journey is helping me to be a better leader. My hope is that you too can learn from my experience whether you are facing your own challenges in health, life, business or work.
My life was turned upside down quickly. From receiving a recall letter in early December 2020, to biopsies, to getting results and surgery a week before Christmas to starting my chemotherapy treatment in early February 2021. I was given the choice – have your surgery next Monday or wait until after Christmas. After some short reflection I decided next week was the best option and I was so glad I did as we were back in lock-down in January.
When faced with sudden change you always have a choice how to respond. Here are some of the choices I made that have served me well.
I made a choice I was going to handle this and lead myself and our family through this the best way I could. Yes it was scary and it was unknown. Yet from the beginning I was strong and focused on my recovery and sustaining myself each step of the way instead of getting caught up in ‘why me’ or the drama of the word ‘cancer’.
I never looked at this as a fight against cancer. Everyone’s journey is unique so what I’m sharing with you is my own experience. I see myself on a healing recovery journey bringing my body and mind back to wholeness. Remember my diagnosis was found at the early stage of cancer. Dealing with cancer is a life-changing experience and it is not to be underestimated. It takes its toll physically, emotionally, and spiritually for you and your family. You can make it easier by how you respond to it. What we think about what is happening influences our behaviour which influences our actions and how we deal with it.
This may not be for everyone but it gave me a sense of I am leading the way on this. My first cycle of chemo was the hardest as it was unknown. My body was nervous in the days leading up to it and I had to really work on being present to what was happening rather than let fear take me over. From a practical side I decided to get my hair shaved after my 1st cycle of chemotherapy rather than wait for it to fall out gradually. Each cycle of my chemotherapy got easier as I tracked my symptoms, learning to rest when my body needed it and feeling more confident, I could manage this. And I did.
I wanted to be authentic about what was happening in the moment rather than hide and pretend everything is perfect. I made a choice that I was going to be kind and loving to myself and my family along the way. And I had to learn to practice this at a whole new level.
It is not easy to watch a family member go through this. It meant having a real conversation with our children two weeks before Christmas and being there for them as they come to terms with our new reality. The more love and compassion you can have for yourself and everyone involved along the journey makes it a whole lot easier to tolerate the treatment and help with your recovery. This looks like allowing people to have their feelings and not trying to diminish them, taking space to process your feelings and encouraging everyone to get on with life as much as possible, myself included, as I went through my treatment.
All of this has rippled out into my business too, showing up and speaking my truth about my journey. I had to dig a bit deeper for the courage to share my journey on Linkedin. I was blown away by the support and understanding from clients, colleagues and friends wishing me a speedy recovery and messages from other women who have already been on this journey.
The thought about writing this blog about how I have dealt with my journey came to me during one of my sleepless nights. It inspired me to share it with you and how we can access our strengths to lead ourselves through unexpected events. Some of these strengths include self-leadership, vision, resilience, empathy, connection and intuition. I’m sure many of you have learned to access these through the pandemic.
I see years of working in leadership and personal development coming together to sustain me through my own challenging time and how I have learned to own and value my strengths as a Highly Sensitive Leader to be able to deeply tune into what is needed. For that I am grateful and my innate ability to see solutions and guide others to succeed through change and challenging times and situations.
This time it happened to be myself and my own health and family I was leading and guiding. From learning to prioritise my own needs, to communicate more effectively by having open and frank communication with my family, clients, colleagues, neighbours and health team and to asking for and receiving the support I needed along the way.
All of this has propelled me forward to embrace my purpose at a deeper level and to show up to support and help other leaders like me, who want to access their resilience and strengths to lead more effectively and make a difference during these uncertain times.
I am so looking forward to returning to my business in the coming months with my renewed sense of purpose. In the meantime, I will keep in touch and I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below.
2 thoughts on “How cancer helped me be a better leader?”
Thank you for sharing your journey Fidelma. A strong positive attitude seems to be the way forward. Wishing you well in your recovery.
You are welcome Brianán and thank you for reading my blog. Yes I agree a strong positive attitude is what is needed to lead others especially during challenging times.