Overcoming Negative Self-Talk Helped Me Get Back to Work
My first day back to work was like a Zoom meeting on prednisone.
It had been 10 months since I dropped everything to deal with the shock of a triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) diagnosis. When my doctor told me “It’s breast cancer”, my life changed instantly. I had zero assurances that I’d survive the diagnosis – let alone return to work.
TNBC is considered a more aggressive type of breast cancer; there are fewer therapeutic options for treatment and studies show it has the worst prognosis of all breast cancer types. So yeah, going back to work was the last thing on my mind.
Fast-forward 10 months to when I got the call. CBC News: The National needed a money expert to help Canadians navigate their “new normal” during a pandemic straining everyone’s finances.
New normal? As a cancer patient I was still getting used to my own “new normal”, thanks. I still felt battered and bruised from AC-T chemo, radiation, and a lumpectomy with a sentinel node biopsy. I had lost 20% of my body mass during treatment, and coming to terms with my new body and crazy chemo curls was just the start. Living with stress and the fear of recurrence was still my new and terrifying reality.
I didn’t feel ready to go on television, even if it was for a good cause. Helping Canadians with money is something I love to do, and sharing coping strategies during a health crisis is a unique skill cancer patients know well.
Still, I wanted to hide – 10 months felt too soon. My inner voice heckled: “You are too puffy, you have nothing important to say, and you look kinda weird with short curly hair.”
Negative self-talk is something many women experience, but for breast cancer thrivers and survivors that voice can be paralyzing. I felt defeated even though I hadn’t even talked to the producer yet.
Stupid cancer. Stupid shattered confidence. Stupid anxiety holding me back.
I needed a cheerleader in my corner. So I messaged a few of my breast cancer friends who had managed their own transitions back to work. “YES!” they said I could do it. “YES!” they encouraged me to show up with my new look. “YES” was the word they kept shouting with love, empathy, and encouragement from their own quarantines. Besides, they also wanted financial advice for surviving COVID-19 work loss.
So I listened to my breast friends, quieted my negative self-talk, and called my producer at CBC News.
Many cancer survivors often re-enter work step-wise, at first taking on a reduced workload or fewer hours at the office. Due to COVID-19, I’d be going back to work on national television, broadcasting from my blue sofa in my basement. I was terrified.
With my chemo curls slicked to the side and my webcam streaming my puffy face from Vernon, British Columbia to CBC headquarters in Toronto, I listened to the panel of money experts discuss surviving financial stress during a pandemic. We were all on air in Zoom windows and it looked so strange and unusual. But whatever; everything after cancer looks strange and feels unusual, so I held in a giggle and went with it.
Then it was my turn. The host, Andrew Chang, introduced me with a question from a newly unemployed student. Deep breath, here we go.
“Your health is your wealth,” I answered. “Staying safe is priority one.” I mentioned money management skills and financial assistance programs too. In under two minutes I was done. The experience was more exhilarating than a shot of prednisone but left me feeling exhausted.
To be honest, I cried.
When the segment aired, my inbox was flooded with kind words and personal stories from breast cancer survivors across Canada. They embraced my new look and encouraged me to keep going. It was all the inspiration I needed in that moment, and it gave me the confidence to book another segment for the following week.
I’m still navigating my return to work during and after the pandemic. Cancer recovery isn’t a straight line – neither is a career path. It can be messy and fraught with starts and setbacks.
So when you’re ready to head back to work – whether it’s in a Zoom window or at the office – please know you’re enough.
Find a breast-friend cheerleader to help quiet any negative self-talk, and listen.
Your voice matters. Your story counts. And your work may be someone else’s lifeline.