3 Leadership Lessons Learned from Breast Cancer

There's a lot to learn from a life-threatening disease

You are never the same after you hear the words, “you have cancer.”  As much as no one ever wants to hear those words, you can learn a lot from the battle.

I’ve been diagnosed with cancer 3 times, the most recent being breast cancer in 2015. I can easily see 3 lessons that I learned through these trials.  Lessons that probably wouldn’t penetrate as deep, had I not experienced the ugliness of cancer.

3 Leadership Lessons from My Battle with Cancer

  1. Don’t let differences keep you from appreciating others.

survivorWe naturally drift to people just like us.  Although we may not be against the lifestyles of others, we’re just more comfortable with people like ourselves.  This all changes when there’s an equalizer such as cancer.  Suddenly we see each other as very similar human beings with similar feelings and needs.

This is important to recognize as a leader.  We don’t only want to surround ourselves with people just like us.  When someone excels in an area that we don’t, that’s a really great thing.  We need to build our teams with people with various strengths.  We want people who think differently and tackle problems differently.

I have met a lot of special people through my cancer journey.  These are people who I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, but who have helped shape me and make me who I am.  My life is richer because of the variety of people that entered my life through cancer.

My experience is a great reminder to reach out to people of all ages, nationalities, incomes, hobbies, and preferences because each person has a lot to offer simply because of who he/she is.  I don’t want to limit my exposure to that knowledge because someone is not ‘just like me.’ Fill your network with a variety of people from all walks of life.

  1. You need a core, support network.

Whether you’re a CEO, an executive in transition, or a cancer patient, you have tremendous stress about what tomorrow will bring. We all need a support network that really ‘gets it’.

Find people who you trust and have walked where you’re walking.  If you’re a CEO, find fellow CEOs that you can “be real” with.  If you’re in transition, find other people in transition and swap ideas and tips. (here’s an article  that can get you started)  If you’re battling a life-threatening sickness, find others who know how you feel to come alongside you.  During my battle with breast cancer I set up a Facebook group that began as just 3 of us.  Today there are over 100 people in my group, each of us breast cancer survivors.

The friendships born out of our trials are deep.  We share a common bond that is not shared by everyone.  It’s freeing to talk about our feelings and fears, knowing you’ll be heard and understood.  You need to find people who will be that for you. It could be a mentor, a round table, a support group or your own organic group built from doctors, nurses, and fellow patients, such as mine.

  1. Don’t let your setbacks define you.

When you are in the midst of scary circumstances, you can choose to let the circumstances control you, or you can look for the good. You are more than your biggest trial.  Learn from your trial but be remembered as a survivor.

You may need to forgive someone, maybe yourself or your health, for letting you down.  Then you need to look at the opportunities that can develop from your struggle.  Decide what you want to accomplish and start making it happen.  Dwelling on the bad is natural, but it won’t get you where you want to go.  Decide how you want to be remembered and start living that life.

I wouldn’t wish cancer or any other horrible circumstances on anyone, but it certainly has a way of teaching you some valuable lessons.  I’ve met many, wonderful people who have had similar stories.  I’m guessing many of you reading this have stories of your own – stories of great hardship that made you stronger.  What was your greatest learning?  It’s so encouraging to hear of the gold that comes through the fire.

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