Debra D. on January 3, 2018
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage 1B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
Type and Description of Treatments:
Surgery, Chemotherapy (Cytoxin and Taxotere), Radiation
How do you feel today?
Incredibly fortunate and content
Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?
About five months later when chemo-brain hit. I began to have trouble retaining information, keeping people’s names straight, multi-tasking and finding words. These were tasks and skills that I once performed with little effort. I no longer had the ability to be the seemingly 8-armed octopus I once was who could multitask, retain and recall huge amounts of information, and interact, speak, and present with ease. It would take much more than my usual efforts to keep on top of everything and I didn’t feel that the quality of my work was up to my usual standards. The mental and physical energy required to try to keep up with my work and home responsibilities left me exhausted.
While my boss, colleagues, and family didn’t really notice my mental lapses, I noticed! When I would get tongue-tied trying to retrieve a word, miss an exit on the freeway, forget to join a conference call, arrive late for a meeting, misstate a fact, or draw a blank on what I was saying mid-sentence, it would feel like my knees had been taken out from under me. The harder I tried to overcome my challenges, the more frustrated, discouraged and inept I felt. My prior confidence and self-assurance eroded. I was anxious, depressed and exhausted. In short, I no longer recognized myself. I didn’t look or feel like the person I was before. When I would tell my family, friends and health care team about my challenges, they tried to be supportive by saying things like “you’re fine”, “now you’re just like the rest of us”, and my personal favorite, “at least you’re not dead”. While all of these statements may have been true, the lack of empathy and support made me feel isolated and distraught. I knew I should be grateful to be alive, but I felt like I was struggling to live.
How have your long-term goals or life goals changed since diagnosis?
Over the course of a few months of struggling to overcome my Chemo Brain, I worked with an Executive Coach who helped me realize that I was working to adapt to a job, and a whole lifestyle in fact, that no longer fit. This sense of mismatch wasn’t just that the job required skills and an energy level that were zapped by chemo-brain, it was that my prior profession and mode of being in the world no longer served who I am. I had spent the past 25 years working really hard and putting off until “someday” many of the things I had always wanted to do – volunteer with a non-profit organization, learn to speak Spanish, read the hundreds of books accumulated on my bookshelves, develop a regular practice of yoga and meditation, reconnect with high school friends on social media, cultivate my relationship with my stepdaughter, hike Mount Washington to name just a few. My busy work schedule and long commute had always gotten in the way. I realized I wanted to get off the hamster wheel.
The experience of working with a coach led me to discover a calling to become an Executive and Leadership coach. This new career allows me to use my talents and life experience to serve and support others in pursuing their own goals and purpose. It also affords me sufficient flexibility and time to devote to my family, health, hobbies, and ongoing personal and professional learning and development. It has set me on the path towards realizing two goals that have been my dream since I was a teenager – to own my own small business and to write a book. Never could I have imagined that chemo-brain and coaching could have led to such profound and exciting changes in my life!