Facing Cancer
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Leaning In & Looking Back

Not so long ago, I wrote a blog post about leaning in. You know, that idea of pursuing a goal and pushing yourself to the forefront of opportunity. But what does it mean when you have cancer? What does it mean to lean in? There were some interesting comments on the post. The general consensus was that when diagnosed with cancer, leaning in becomes far more focused upon quality of life than quality of work. But I don’t have kids, and I do have a lot of ideas. Personally, I wanted to keep on working – keep on creating, but did I want to commit to a contract? I don’t know. How can you commit to anything when every month is uncertain?

The day I was diagnosed with a breast cancer recurrence – stage 4 seriousness, was the first time the word ‘disability’ was mentioned. The oncologist, Dr Canada as I call him occasionally, mentioned he’d refer me to a social worker so that I could learn more about disability.

Disability? I asked myself. Why would I need that?

It wasn’t too long thereafter that I encountered the very reason why folks may need disability when given a metastatic cancer diagnosis. Apart from the obvious ones like pain (it can happen, unfortunately), treatment and so on, there is the emotional impact of cancer – i.e. The Cancer Blues.

I went to a complimentary treatment center, and there I met a lady who had the same diagnosis as me, and she got it at about the same time. Except, somehow, she was so very different. She could barely look up, barely get her words out, and barely face the day. She was utterly and deeply depressed. So much so that she had to leave her job early. It had simply become impossible to work.

Now the good news to this, is that over the months, I saw her smile, and saw her lighten and saw her recover herself. But it took a lot of work. She was really, truly working on herself hard. She was leaning into her wellness, and I could see the fruits of that labour.

Meanwhile, I was struggling in my own way. Struggling to make sense of the crazy madness that is being diagnosed after you thought everything was over. And also, struggling to figure out my own life story – I hadn’t had a career from which I could retire early, I hadn’t changed the world, or really hit my professional stride – and all parts of me wanted to keep going, keep creating. My husband I were/are entrepreneurs, I don’t think it was really ever an option to slow down. It was more like, keep pushing, keep going – because that will keep things normal. That will keep you, you.

And so, in a way, I leaned in.

I leaned in by doing part-time work, and by taking on new projects, and by travelling and enjoying myself.

And then one day I had a job offer, a proper full-time take-on-this-project-and-make-it-happen offer. And I decided to go for it – to take that contract even though another scan was looming on the horizon. Another scan will always be looming on the horizon. I am afraid of getting terribly sick, but I’m also afraid of saying no to opportunities simply because I may be living with a progressive disease.

Anyhow, it’s not always easy to work full time and fight cancer. But I have to say, it’s damn satisfying to go to work and commit myself to something so wholly not related to cancer. It’s also really satisfying to feel myself coming to terms with all the newness of the job. AND it’s downright incredible to see how far I’ve gotten career-wise. By leaning in, I don’t allow room for regrets. Taking this job was the right decision. Even if, at times, I’m tired too. But hey, who doesn’t get tired? And who said good things are always easily done?

I think we all have our own definition of what it means to lean in. For me, it was simply to say yes despite any fears.

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Member since
Feb 03, 2011

I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days after my one year wedding anniversary. That was a shocker. After three years NED, cancer reappeared and pushed me to stage four. This blog captures life despite cancer. With international relocations, job search drama, fighting off apartment vermin, falling deeply in love and more. Life is challenging, but nevertheless inspiring and that’s what Bumpboobs is all about. You can find me over at @Bumpyboobs on Twitter, and hey - I wrote a lovely fiction novel! - over at http://www.CatherineBrunelle.com

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