Five things I have learnt from my cancer diagnosis, treatment and prognosis (I know its easier to say “journey” but I can’t bear that phrase!)

From the moment I was diagnosed to the day I finished Chemo I was incredibly touched at the number of cards, flowers and good wishes I received.

No one is indispensable

Much as it irks me to say it – even me! If you have a strong supportive professional team around you – you really can rely on them to pick up your tasks and treat your clients and your team as well as you would wish yourself. I worried desperately on learning my cancer diagnosis the impact on the business and how long I would be out for – I felt as though I was letting down the team. By creating the building blocks of a great team over the last few years it made an already stressful situation much easier. I never had any concerns during my treatment over how the business performed in my absence.

I didn’t disappear completely – my CEO (who is also a close friend) would collect me each Friday and drive me to the Oncology ward for treatment (you can’t drive for 24 hours after Chemotherapy), We took this precious time to catch up on business issues, client matters and just general industry gossip. It was my touchpoint back to the business and I looked forward to it each week. I particularly loved it when she had a Trust query – but that’s just because I am sad.

Take time to smell the flowers

I have worked full time since I was 16 years old. I took five months maternity with my son and three months with my daughter. My surgery and treatment took over five months – five months to literally cocoon myself and do nothing – just heal. I never realised the value of relaxation until I had the luxury of time to do it. By relaxation I don’t mean facials or spa treatments – I mean the joy of lying in bed with a cup of tea and listening to a podcast (if you want any pointers on great podcasts I am your woman) with nowhere to be and nowhere to go. Most good employers offer flexible working arrangements now – use them! If it’s a lovely sunny Friday – leave at 4 and take your dogs to the beach/kids to the beach/sit on the Quay having a glass of wine with your friends. Go home and listen to a podcast with a cup of tea while the rain lashes down – just take some time for you. I had been chasing my tail for such a long time I had lost the ability to relax – try and introduce some time to do something you enjoy or relaxes you for a few hours a week – trust me if you look for the time you can find it. My final point on this is your annual leave allocation. Take it! No one is going to give you a medal or a mention in dispatches for having days owing to you – it’s not the 80s any more and you are a long time dead.

People are inherently good

Hopefully this isn’t news – we all knew it. Let’s face it – everyone with a long-ish career has come across one or two Disney-esque villains in the workplace – you know the one. They take pleasure in other misfortunes, have zero empathy and believe the mantra of greed is good. Thankfully these people are very much the minority – create an environment with true empathy and compassion for others – just be nice!

From the moment I was diagnosed to the day I finished Chemo I was incredibly touched at the number of cards, flowers and good wishes I received. Not just from friends, but old colleagues, clients and firms that I have worked with. It wasn’t about the size of the bouquet that moved me to tears but the small things. One card I received was handmade and hand painted with a lovely uplifting verse – this was from someone who themselves was dealing with a terminal diagnosis. The fact she thought of me and my family at this time genuinely made me cry.

I had so many offers of help with everything from driving to shopping (no one offered to walk the two huge dogs though).

Try to be Tigger and not Eeyore

This is a tricky one. I’ve always been a fan of consistent management – no point being Pollyanna one day and the Wicked Witch of the West the next – leaves everyone in a perpetual state of terror of what day it is.

Similarly, I found myself with a cancer diagnosis and facing gruelling chemotherapy. Do I sit down in a heap and cry and feel sorry for myself and bring everyone else around me down too – or do I try and be as optimistic as I can, pull on my big girl pants and face it. The latter is much easier for your friends and family – if they see you are ok and coping – its so much easier for them to do that too. Maybe I applied my theory around management to dealing with what was happening – in any event it worked for me. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good weep and off days – I did. At the beginning when I was working from home in lockdown and waiting for surgery there were days I couldn’t face our daily directors call – so I didn’t and the world still turned on its axis.

The NHS is a privilege and not a right

This is not a political statement in any way – but!

I faced the prospect of losing all my hair from the cyto toxic drugs but I could use a scalp cooling machine which would hopefully save my hair (it did). I found a Facebook support group for the scalp cooler and the sheer amount of women around the world who either got into debt or had to fight with their insurers to be able to use the product was heart-breaking. We get it for free on the NHS.

Most decent firms have a CSR team/committee. Sometimes I think charity begins at home. I never thought for one minute that in all the years I bought pink cupcakes or chucked a fiver in a bucket for Manx Breast Cancer support Group that I would need their help and they would save my hair. Maybe think about charities closer to home because a small donation can make such a huge impact to local charities.

I am in awe of nurses and healthcare assistants – they certainly don’t do it for the money so a smile and a thank you and just being pleasant could make the difference to their day. I know the nurse holding my hand at three in the morning when I felt dreadful was truly in her vocation.

Turn up to Drs appointments, don’t miss any screening programmes and if you can pay for over the counter medicines – don’t get on prescription. Small things will save the NHS.