What a Cancer Diagnosis Teaches You About Life

To see a picture of my family on social media, we look almost perfect. Two beautiful little girls, an athletic, handsome husband, the quintessential golden retriever puppy, and me. Social media is this century’s biggest PR machine. But, social media often doesn’t tell the story behind the photo.

My family is amazing but severely broken. Not only do I continue to recover from a brain injury that occurred five years ago, but my husband, Jeff, was diagnosed in September with esophageal cancer. This is the kind of diagnosis that takes your breath away: a diagnosis that leads me to cry openly walking down the street, because the pain and fear inside is so intense that it is wild and uncontrollable.

Every time we look at the girls, our hearts break for them. They are 6 and 8 years old. They know their Daddy has cancer, but we have kept the outlook very positive for them. We don’t want to burden them with worries about the struggle their hero is facing as his treatment begins — to fight like he has never fought before to save his life. To live to see them graduate elementary school, high school, university, to walk them down the aisle at their weddings and to meet our grandchildren — there is still so much ahead of us.

So, how do we cope? First of all, there will be a lot of days we probably won’t. We will be hanging by a thread, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I have no idea what we are in for. Support will be key for us. It’s amazing to see your neighbors, as well as family and friends, step up in a big way.

I believe that to stay strong, we need to dig deeper into mindfulness. We have to stay here, in this moment, to be focused and make the best decisions as well as to not let future fears take hold. Continue to work throughout this journey. Continue to take on new clients. Your mind needs to stay focused on regular life from time to time. Keep working to support your family.

I am continuing to share with my executive coaching clients the tools around mindfulness that I am using myself. I believe the fact that I am balancing everything I have going on in my life right now is a testament to the power of mindfulness. I am approaching my coaching work with a slightly different attitude. I am pushing my clients harder.

This journey shines a light on the preciousness of life and making every moment count. We really don’t have time to be complacent in our work and in our lives. My husband’s cancer can serve as a reminder to all of us that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Next time you are on Facebook or Twitter and see a photo of someone having the time of their lives on the beach or getting that great promotion, remember there is always a story behind the picture. Every person faces a struggle.

At some time or another, we all doubt ourselves, hit rock bottom and feel lost. We are all people going through this journey of life. There will be ups and there will be downs. That is how life is designed to be. That is the beauty of life and the mystery of it. Be grateful for who you are, the work you do, the family and friends that you have, and be kind to yourself — don’t fall for the trap of comparing yourself to others around you.

Because at the end of the day, we are all people, just trying to survive.


Blogger: Carey-Ann Oestreicher, Chief Engagement Officer, Potential Unlimited

Recipient of a Top 40 Under Forty Business Achievement award, Carey-Ann Oestreicher, owner of the career development firm for women, Potential Unlimited (www.potentialunlimited.ca), holds an MBA and has worked in a variety of senior positions including vice-president level. Her focus is her family and helping women in business find true peace and happiness in their lives while achieving new heights in their careers.

Carey-Ann has been featured in a variety of media because of the success she has experienced with her holistic approach to developing women leaders and entrepreneurs. Her appearances include: CTV’s Canada AM, TSN, CBC News, Global Television, City TV News, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Business magazine, The Toronto Star and The Canadian Press.

Enough with The Mommy Guilt!

Once a week, my husband picks up our girls at school instead of them taking the bus home. On these afternoons, my family likes to linger longer at the school playground with some of their friends. During one of these occasions, my eldest daughter was playing with a friend when this little girl asked, “Did your Mommy die?” My daughter told her I was still alive. “Well, she never picks you up from school. I thought because I never see her, she’s dead!”

Later that evening, my daughter told me what was said by her friend. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. After that comment sat with me, I felt this sharp pang of guilt in my stomach. It was the dreaded “mommy guilt” that most working moms experience at some point or another.

I felt like a bad mom. I “should” be picking up my daughters more often. But notice whenever we use the word should in a sentence, the action becomes more about what we think other people expect of us versus what is right for us and our families. No one knows what life is like for each family.

How do we deal with “mommy guilt”?

  1. Extinguish your superwoman beliefs

We really can’t do it all. We know in business that it’s not a smart strategy to try to be all things to all people. Remind yourself that this is not smart to do at home either. If you are working out of the house, outsource your cleaning, shopping—whatever you can. Most moms I know have two major priorities: family and fulfilling work. Try to eliminate all of the little stuff from your life so you can spend more quality time doing the things you love.

  1. Focus on quality moments when you are with your family

When was the last time you looked deeply into your children or partner’s eyes when they spoke to you? This allows them to feel like they have your full attention and it also keeps your brain present rather than thinking about your to-do’s for work or the little things at home that don’t really matter in the long run.

  1. Speak up

If you’re feeling your schedule is unmanageable, consider if it’s time for you to share this with your leader. There may be options you can explore around working from home a few days a week, reducing travel, getting a coach to help you deal with the feelings of overwhelm or even working part-time.

  1. Working is not a bad thing

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by life’s demands, it can feel like work is the devil. You may begin to feel resentful towards your job and the time it is taking away from your family. In these cases, you have to be responsible for finding a way to set boundaries for yourself and the job, knowing you will burnout if you don’t. But also, work can be a positive thing from the perspective of your children. It teaches them independence, the value of work and that you are a strong woman who has a big impact on others. We need more women leaders in the world to show the younger generations what is possible for girls!

  1. Mommy guilt could be a sign of a bigger problem

If you feel like you are going off the rails in your life with high demands at work and home, mommy guilt might actually just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The real issue may be around working in a career that isn’t fulfilling or having an over-scheduled life outside of work. In this case, the mommy guilt may be a gift: feeling uncomfortable forces you to reflect on what you really want out of life and work. This reflection may lead you to make some changes in your life that feel more in tune with what you really want. Remember, feeling discomfort is not a bad thing. It often prompts us to make some of the biggest changes towards a deeper level of growth in our lives.

  1. Cut yourself some slack

Remember you can’t do it all. Tell yourself you are doing the best you can. When you go home from work tonight, look into your child’s eyes. Hug and kiss them, tell them you love them. Laugh with them. Forget about the details and organization in life for a while. Just be you: a woman who loves her child, and for that time all the rest of the world will slip away.

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Blogger Carey-Ann Oestreicher, MBA, BA (Hons.), Chief Engagement Officer, Potential Unlimited

Recipient of a Top 40 Under Forty Business Achievement award, Carey-Ann Oestreicher, owner of the career development firm for women, Potential Unlimited (www.potentialunlimited.ca), holds a MBA and has worked in a variety of senior positions including vice-president level. Her focus is her family and helping women in business find true peace and happiness in their lives while achieving new heights in their careers.

Carey-Ann has been featured in a variety of media because of the success she has experienced with her holistic approach to developing women leaders and entrepreneurs. Her appearances include: CTV’s Canada AM, TSN, CBC News, Global Television, City TV News, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Business magazine, The Toronto Star and The Canadian Press.

@potentialultd