Last Monday, the most uplifting, liberating thing happened here at SUSE – we had a lady (I refuse to say female – as that sounds like a cat), become our CEO. There she was; stunning, confident and smart. And when she reeled off all the things she did; charities, speeches, presentations…along with having a young family and work, it made me ask myself what the heck I’d been doing all my life. She also signed off with a great hashtag – #daretobedifferent – and I wondered, how I was different? Was I?
Five years ago, I found a lump in my breast. I knew instantly that it wasn’t good.
I was just about to go to SAP Sapphire in Orlando, so decided I’d deal with it as soon as I got back.
Sadly, the results showed that it was as I expected, breast cancer.
The lady at the hospital told me the results and I stood there stunned. ‘Well, you’re going to miss about a year of your life…’.
‘You’ll need to find out about long-term sickness as you won’t be able to work’…
I didn’t want to miss a year of my life. I’d just got going. My career was on the up again having taken a break from corporate life after having my children. I was having so much fun.
I was being told I had cancer and yet all I could think about was my career… I didn’t want to ‘take a break to focus on getting better’. In fact, that was the last thing I wanted to focus on.
Taking long term sickness meant that I couldn’t work at all – not even when I was feeling OK in between treatments. I’d heard horrible stories of women who’d been through this and hadn’t dared to tell their employer, their manager or their peers out of fear of being cast aside. But SUSE is different. We pride ourselves on being open. So, I made a bold decision. I told my boss and my team. I said that I’d like to give it a go, and if it wasn’t working for them, or for me, then I’d think again. They were very understanding and supportive.
I started treatment.
Every few weeks I’d go for chemotherapy. I bought myself a lap desk so I could work while I was attached to the machine for what seemed like hours on end. It whirred and clicked behind me as I immersed myself in SUSE.
My hair fell out, my skin aged rapidly and I lost weight. There were some nasty side effects but I really didn’t feel that bad. I was so glad for the distraction of work and during that time, I built a team, kicked off many initiatives and became a VP.
Finally, after 12 months that included chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery I was given the ‘all clear’. Phew!
Last month, I reached my five years – so am ‘officially all clear’.
So here I am, five years later, feeling not so different to the many amazing women and men on my team and beyond, who successfully juggle their work with their families, their interests and who knows what else. I’m so glad now that I dared to be different.
As I look forward with the excitement of having a lady CEO at the helm, I challenge you, to challenge yourself.