“You have breast cancer.”
Those words stop you in your tracks. You don’t expect to hear them. Not as a relative newlywed, an aspiring mother and enthusiastic upwardly mobile tech-industry careerist.
But in the seconds it takes for those words to be spoken and your brain to process their meaning, your life changes forever.
It is a Wednesday evening – your birthday. And you have a business trip the next morning to regale the C-suite of your company’s largest distribution and co-sell partner on your tremendous joint progress. You have to inform your manager – there is so much unknown ahead. How do you share this type of news? Especially when you still don’t know what it means.
Clarity. A life-altering diagnosis brings you clarity. You stop in your tracks and reprioritize. Focus on wellness. The treatment phase. The new normal (what does that mean??). You dive into this unknown, petrified and yet fortified. Why? Because there is “work love.”
What is “work love?” It is that moment when your colleagues become your friends, the ones who remain by your side no matter what. The hugs, the calls, the words of support. “We are here for you.” “You have been an invaluable member of our team for so long, this time we are going to step up and become that invaluable team for you and your treatment and recovery.” “What do you need?” “Here is a vase of flowers, we will keep filling this vase with flowers throughout your treatment. We noticed how much you love them and that they make you smile.” “I brought you a baseball cap from my favorite beach for your bald head.”
Empowerment. Safety and security. You go on that business trip. And the next one. And the one after that. Between surgeries and treatments, you power through. You take naps in the break room during chemo, you try to go on the hike in Aspen for the management retreat and realize it is too much for your body. You experience inevitable setbacks because you are focused on winning the war, not the battle. But you hold your wigged head high because, well, “work love.”
More flowers, words of support. Your colleague, now friend, climbs on a desktop and belts out showtunes because you are having a bad day. You finish active treatment and you settle into your new normal. You become an energetic, dedicated breast cancer cure advocate, working with multiple organizations.
You make it through, you and your work family, navigating with “work love.”
Then against all odds, you are pregnant. Because chemo often makes young women infertile, you did not think that was your future. You are thrilled to be wrong. Your work family has changed. No work family will ever measure up to that original treasure trove of caring and loving souls, but you remain empowered after your first and then second son is born. You celebrate 10 years. You walk 60 miles in a weekend for the breast cancer 3-day. You ride your bike in the Tour de Pink – 240 miles in a weekend – and between the two raise over $30,000 for research, education, screening and treatment.
You keep showing up for your annual mammogram until the other shoe drops. It does, 11 years later. This time you are in the middle of an interview cycle with another work family. Full transparency, you share your update and the hiring process is accelerated to ensure you have insurance coverage during your surgery journey. Another beautiful work family rises up again because in the end, human nature is compassionate, caring, “work loving.”
20 years eventually pass since you heard those dreaded words the first time, 9 since the second time. You find yourself mentoring those newly diagnosed, guiding and advising those who want to know what they can do for someone at work who was newly diagnosed.
Retrospectively you think about the journey. And the constant that transcends, organizations, industries, the passage of time. “Work love.”
About the AuthorMore Content by Rana Kahl