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​Insights from Personal Struggle: Becoming a Stronger You

​Insights from Personal Struggle: Becoming a Stronger You

It’s funny how life happens. I’m a 45-year-old woman, mother of two wonderful kids (although given that they are teenagers, they can completely annoy me at times), have been married for 19 years to a pretty awesome guy, and am two months post a double mastectomy due to Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS). If you would have asked me a year ago if I’d be sifting through breast sizes and going to my plastic surgeon weekly to expand my pectoral muscles to allow for new breasts—I would not have believed you. Well, I might have believed you a little bit.

Two years ago, I found out that I had a gene mutation linked to breast cancer. PALB2. Given that information and the fact that my sister was diagnosed (and is a survivor) over 10 years ago, I knew that breast cancer was a possibility.

I’m not writing about my cancer experience per se, but rather I'm writing to share how my experience has affected my approach to work/life, and how I might be able to better serve myself, clients, family, and friends as a result. I’m an Executive Coach and Consultant. I coach individuals on various emotional intelligence skills and behaviors and provide team building and training support to leaders and their teams. I love what I do.

As I reflect on my journey, I found many “ah-ha” moments, and  as I look to the future, I know I will continue to process what I’ve experienced and hopefully incorporate those learnings to further my growth as a coach, mother, wife, colleague, leader, sister, daughter and friend. So, looking back on the last 6 months what are my takeaways?

Practice self and personal care.  

My cancer was caught very early. I’m lucky—I’m not sure lucky is the right word but we’ll go with it. My heart breaks for those that weren’t and aren’t so fortunate. I only hope I can be of support to the many that have had and are having a more difficult experience. While a double mastectomy isn’t a cake walk, it’s a little easier to process when the fear of additional treatment and reoccurrence aren’t breathing down your neck. I believe I am where I am for two reasons: #1—some luck was on my side and #2—I practiced self-care. How did I do that? Once my sister was diagnosed, I immediately started mammograms every 6 months—I was 35. When my doctor told me that I might want to get gene tested—I listened and acted. When I got my blood test results, I immediately got a medical team in place to educate and guide me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I again sought out oncological surgeons and plastic surgeons to delicately remove tissue and help me feel whole again.

Be mindful of your body, the risks you might have, and the stress and anxiety you experience. Pay attention to them. Become emotionally smart. Recognize emotions and how they make you feel and what they do to your body. Bottom line: take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, or you will find it increasingly difficult take care of others—at home and at work.

Be willing to share and let your guard down. 

The love and compassion I received from colleagues, clients, family, and friends near and far continues to be overwhelming—in good way. The foundation of building relationships in life is establishing trust. To build trusting, authentic relationships, you must share pieces of who you are, your experiences and your emotions, and let others support you in a way that may make you feel uncomfortable. We all have our limits on how much of ourselves we might reveal, but be willing to let others in to alleviate some of the physical and emotional pain, stress, and/or discomfort.

Withhold judgement and make no assumptions.

One of the golden rules in coaching is this: To effectively listen to your client and fully take in what they are saying, you must be able to suspend judgement. Over the years, and more intensely in these last 4 months, I’ve learned that perspective is everything, and our perspective comes from our experiences. Giving others the benefit of the doubt, suspending your value system to avoid judgement, and asking questions to better understand someone’s mood, reaction, or decision is crucial. Create an environment of curiosity with those around you rather than judging their actions and decisions.

Let it go and “pull the weeds.” 

There were many people that surprised me (both positively and negatively) throughout my journey: Some showing me love and support that I never expected, some giving their all or exactly what I thought they would do, and others barely acknowledging my situation. I realized that some people couldn’t walk this journey with me in the way I needed them to, and rather than be hurt or angry, I had to let it go and “weed the garden.” I stole that from a friend’s therapist. Weeding your garden or pulling the weeds. Life is too short to tolerate relationships that aren’t serving you. Invest that energy into those that do show up to allow richer, fuller relationships.

Communicate how you feel—don’t mask your emotions. 

I started out this journey with a positive perspective. Using phrases like “I’m one of the lucky ones” or “I’m thankful this is all I have to go through,” and while I believed that, I also had a lot of anger, sadness, and apprehension. Regardless of the situation, let people know how you are feeling so they can show up for you. Whether it’s a personal or family trauma, health concern, new job, new project, new relationship—share how you are feeling. Don’t make those around you guess your emotional state. Allow them what they need to be supportive in times of need.

Above are key learnings I experienced on my journey, as I said, my “ah-ha” moments. I’m forever changed, and while my experience isn’t over just yet, I hope to use my learnings to help others grow and develop personally and professionally. I wish all readers the same resolve as you experience difficult moments in your life. Here’s to a stronger you. 

[Related: How to Use Difficult Emotion as Creative Fuel]


Tracy brown is an accomplished Coach and Consultant with over 15 years of business and HR consulting experience. She partners with clients on topics including: leadership development, coaching, training, and teambuilding. More specifically, Tracy works with clients to equip leaders and teams with the tools, knowledge and skills they need to build authentic relationships, communicate effectively, and work productively and collaboratively.

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