Written by: David Kegley, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
When the Past No Longer Serves You
I leaned in as a respected colleague recently shared her cancer story with me. She told the story of her chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. The treatments saved her life but before they kept her cancer at bay, they almost killed her a couple of times. What I thought was riveting about my colleague’s story wasn’t just how she survived her treatments and then went on to survive her cancer. It was what was happening in the background while she was going through the treatment.
In Cancer Journey Coaching we often call the treatment phase “The Pit.” It is a place nobody wants to be and a place where it is difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. Often unknown to us, something special is happening. Since things like cancer and other life-threatening illnesses affect us on such a deep level, it stirs up and challenges our core commitments. Very often those core commitments, things like best friends, vocations, faith in God and anything we used to consider of deep value are reevaluated.
This reevaluation seems to happen when we’re not looking during that Pit phase. There we begin to let go of what’s no longer serving us, refine those commitments and they emerge in a stronger way. What’s so interesting is that without cancer and the fight for our lives, we may very well have kept holding onto the same core commitments without evaluating them. This deep-core-check during treatment, that time when my colleague almost died twice, served as a kind of a shake-up or a way of helping her to notice that certain commitments needed to be reevaluated.
Pre diagnosis, she spent a good deal of her years in a very intense, successful, high-stakes sales career where money and profit were always front and center. She was under a lot of stress during those days and her value was tied up in how much she could sell. Her company rewarded her and respected her for her high sales performance.
What she noticed while being treated for cancer, was certain friends she thought she could rely on never made an appearance when she needed them the most, her high-end sales company didn’t value her unless she was bringing in lots of cash for them and many other life-altering realizations. These things appeared as an uninterpreted slide show during the treatment phase, and even then, it was somewhat of a blur. Later, she started to interpret what had happened. She realized that her psyche had begun to let go of things like her former attachment to high-end sales and some of the people she used to call friends.
Other people became prominent in my colleague’s life. Neighbors, new friends, other people in the larger sales industry she’d known, therapists and of course the physicians and other health care providers who saw to it that she recovered from treatment and regained strength; these people showed they cared during her life-and-death crises. She re-thought careers and got in touch with her values. This led her to sales in the nonprofit world and to an organization that aligned with those values. Her life, by contrast with her past, is much slower paced and way more meaningful.
It's important to note that it wasn’t that she gave up on friendship altogether, it was just certain fair-weather friends. It also wasn’t the idea of sales altogether, it had more to do with sales in a world that had reduced her and what she sold to a mere commodity. That’s where her values began to inform her and that took some real conscious work that emerged months after the treatment.
Despite the severe challenges she faced, she still expresses remarkable gratitude for all that she learned through her cancer journey. She shared with me that the realizations that she gained through the struggles, though hard-won, are now deeply appreciated. She is not the same person today that she was pre-diagnosis and she would never want to go back because of the valuable lessons each of the challenges have taught her.
People, like my colleague and many I’ve coached, who confront cancer or a major life-threatening illness can learn and grow from the journey instead of being crushed by it. In fact, with a coach and all the tools we can provide, my clients find that much of the letting go process serves them well for the rest of their lives.
What a Cancer Journey Coach can do that other health care providers and coaches may not do so well is the following:
help provide a positive, future-focused perspective for a person’s life;
utilize a wide variety of exclusive tools specifically designed for those diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers;
provide coaching by someone (like myself) who is already on the cancer journey and who understands something about what it’s like, and
focus on you and ask you, “What would you like to work on today?”
Surprisingly, the cancer journey is about letting go of a past that no longer serves you so that you can embrace a future you never thought you had the courage to embrace!
David Kegley, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Kegley specializes in coaching well-educated, progressive leaders and executives who have been stopped in their tracks due to health setbacks. His doctorate is in theology and preaching. His first 25-year career was in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., where he was a Pastor and Head of Staff. But, after getting nearly burned out, getting diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, and going through cancer treatment, he emerged as a credentialed coach. Now he Coaches in the areas where he experienced his own humility and growth: Health and Wellness, The Cancer Journey, Burnout Recovery, and Leadership and Executive.