When Cancer Blurs Personal and Professional

02/16/2017 10:55 am ET
Me with Anjee Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer

There’s often a faint line that runs between personal and professional matters. When I was younger the line was obvious and not so faint. Granted, I did blur the line and build close relationships in one of my first jobs. I worked at the library and it was in the stacks of children’s books on my Tuesday night shift that I learned about my cancer. I was 17 years old. My parents came up to explain the results from my colonoscopy the weekend prior. My boss immediately embraced me and told me to go home.

It was an event that made me look at workplace relationships differently.

Building Work Family

Days after my diagnosis, meals showed up as well as gifts and hospital visits from library co-workers. Their care formed a bond that blurred all lines of personal and professional. Call it serendipity or calling, lucky or well-networked, but my first job out of college at an advertising agency brought the same type of relationships. I’ve been fortunate to work with several teams who’ve treated me the same way. As I’ve slowly divulged my health issues to professional colleagues, many relationships became personal. Family-like bonds formed. Last weekend I attended the visitation for one of the co-founders of the advertising agency. While I worked there only two years, the bear hugs made me feel like I spent 20 years in that job.

The visitation made me reflective about the power of relationships. When we’re surrounded by trustworthy people from 8-5, the line can’t help but become faint at times. Spending any amount of quality time with someone will do it; adding a cancer story to the mix adds a new level.

Willingly blurring my line

In less than two weeks, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month will begin on March 1. It’s a big month for me professionally since I work in the colorectal cancer community. It’s also a big month for me personally. For 31 days I am faced with an extra emphasis on raising awareness of the same disease that’s threatened my life for 16 years. It’s an inevitable blurred line but thanks to another supportive work family at Fight CRC, I’m still standing. As part of our kickoff to March 1, we’re presenting the “Countdown to 2018” live broadcast. To build excitement, we’re asking everyone to share a #ScreeningStory on social media.

As I’ve gotten everything ready for work, I’ve realized that “everyone” also means me.

My Screening Story

One of my social media partners in crime from Mayo Clinic, Lee Aase, went first last year with #ScopeScope when he live streamed his own colonoscopy on Periscope and used it as an educational opportunity to get others screened. I also made a video of one of my colonoscopies several years ago to show it’s not as scary as it seems.

My full screening story is that I’m a two-time colon cancer survivor living with a genetic disease called Lynch syndrome. (It’s a syndrome just as common as BRCA in breast cancer but not as well known.) I get screened for colorectal cancer every year, which means I experience the infamous prep night as often as an obligatory Christmas visit to grandma's house.

Screening saves my life every day. This will be my story for the rest of my life.

I’m not the typical face of colorectal cancer (although the group of us diagnosed under age 50 is growing) but I believe in the power and importance of storytelling. There’s too much of this cancer all around, on both sides of the screening age of 50, and that’s because not enough prevention is taking place. I share my story so those under age 50 like me will learn the symptoms of colorectal cancer and talk about family history. I share so those over age 50 who are not screened will stop making excuses, learn their options and get tested. I share so others can prevent the situation I’m in as a survivor facing long-term issues because of a preventable disease.

More Screening Stories

I hope others will join me this month and share a #ScreeningStory. If you’ve been screened, if you’re a survivor or if you’ve been impacted by this disease in any way - please speak out! Especially if your screening was CLEAR and you didn’t have colorectal cancer! It may take courage and tact. Navigate your own workplace wisely. But as you share, know it may just save the life of your friend, family member or neighbor. Or if you blur the line even more, your colleague.


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