One of the most debilitating aspects of cancer is the impact on your confidence & self-worth. I can’t tell you how much I want this particular aspect to be over!
Alt Text: A selfie of a white woman with long, curly dyed pink here, wearing a blue sweatshirt with a rainbow & the words ‘I’m over it!’ printed on the front. She is in her bedroom, sitting on her bed which is covered in a pink, grey, black & white spotted duvet.
I guess we all have periods of questioning our self-value & self-worth depending on what might be happening in our lives. However, living with a cancer diagnosis can really negatively impact on how we see ourselves or how we think others see us.
I think my self-doubt stems from the fact that I didn’t find my breast lump myself. Instead, it was found in a routine mammogram. Being disabled & having an awareness about my impairment gave me a level of confidence in understanding my body. Cancer took that understanding & confidence away.
I already had generalised, low-level anxiety anyway (it’s very connected to living with an impairment; everyday you’re dealing with a serious of dumb-arse scenarios such as ‘will the cabbie moan about how my wheelchair folds, will the assistance staff come with the ramp to get me off the train before the door closes’ – the list is endless), but this increased to a much higher level once I’d had the cancer diagnosis. I try to reason with myself, trying to accept that getting anxious is entirely understandable after all that I’ve been though. But what I really don’t like about anxiety is when it affects my self-worth, sometimes to such an extent that I lose confidence in thinking that I can’t do something anymore. Trying to counter-act those overwhelming, negative feelings is the debilitating part of it.
When I returned to work, I felt that I had a lot to prove – would I still be up to the job – & did others think that I could still do the job. As a friend send to me recently, if you’re a lead in an organisation & you return from a long sickness absence, or you announce any kind of “transition,” the vultures start circling. That’s 100% true in my experience.
After an astonishingly successful result at work within the last couple of weeks, I can say with total confidence that I am very much back ‘in the room’, but it took a while to get there. For reasons of confidentiality & privacy, I’ve left out names & supplied general details in order to describe my experiences in the blog.
In the early part of this year, the charity that I founded had to re-apply for its core funding. It’s always really intense work & takes a few months away from running the business. However it comes around every few years, so you accept it, roll up your sleeves & get on with it. I’ve led the application process as directed by that particular funder a few times over & the organisation has always been successful, so I took some confidence from that. But this time around it was particularly challenging.
The first indication that things could be altogether very different was when the funder’s guidance came out. Not only were there pages & pages of guidance & bespoke templates to read through, but I also simply couldn’t understand what was being asked of the organisation by the funder. I was deeply shocked. Then shock turned into terror – had my level of comprehension been reduced to almost zero? In an instant, it took me back to when I was put on tamoxifen before my surgery & how I had to eventually take sickness absence because I couldn’t even follow a plot on EastEnders!
My mind & stomach began to do somersaults. The organisation was looking towards me to help them understand how we were going to apply, to decipher any jargon, to co-lead them through the process & to co-lead them to another successful result. The more I read, the more I cross-referenced, the more my brain fog grew.
In a complete state (yes, I’d worked myself up into a frenzy), I turned to my co-lead who responded in the kindest way ever, first & foremost reassuring me that it wasn’t just me finding it impossibly hard. She directed me towards social media where literally all the applicants were expressing the same difficulties as me. And then some other kind & generous souls started releasing Easy-Read guidance & templates & deciphering all the jargon. And then there were others who were willing to have a conversation about what I was finding difficult & then make what I didn’t understand, understandable. Thank god for those generous people.
But all this help doesn’t take away from me having to de-construct all of the guidance so that I could get us into a position where we could start the application. I set about distilling all the guidance down to its essentials. It was only by doing this that I was able to present the different funding models to the team, making recommendations to what our appropriate model should be. This took HOURS of work. Eventually I went back to a tried & tested set of questions – what does our organisation do best, what do we want to achieve in the next few years, how are we going to achieve it & how much budget do we need? Then I matched our aspirations with our what funders would want to know – what does the organisation want to do, how much is it going to cost, have they got the structure to support the activity & how does it meet our criteria? Bam. It sounds so simple doesn’t it! The irony was that I became so proficient in explaining the funder’s different models, one of our other funders claimed that it was the clearest explanation that anyone had ever given them!
Once the recommendations for our funding model were agreed, the whole organisation got to work to complete the application. I regarded the experience like creating a plan which everyone had creative input into & had ownership of, & as a result, it became our most ambitious application to date.
I adopted the position of ‘morale-boaster’ within the organisation, endlessly injecting enthusiasm & positive energy. But all this took its toll. Inevitably I was ill from the ongoing side effects of cancer medication & with work-stress on top of that, I had to withdraw a couple of times in order to make sure that I was recovering in time for the next step of the process. As we came closer to announcement day, there were lots of external rumours. I ignored them, focusing instead on knowing that our organisation was great & there was no reason to think that we wouldn’t be funded. It was really difficult to maintain so I coped by mostly withdrawing from discussing the subject unless I absolutely had to. Of course, on the lead up to the announcement, I happened to be waiting on x-ray results for my right knee & hips (the results were clear, phew!) So, my mind was a jumbled-up jelly mess, but my mantra became “We’re going to get everything that we’ve asked for.”
And do you know what, WE DID! WE DID IT! That’s what I screamed into my laptop screen when I announced it to the team. I cried loads as well. It was such an emotional moment. It felt that all the mental & physical struggles that I’d had for most of the year, melted away. It felt massive. But then it was massive.
Hence the biggest rule in doubting yourself is never to doubt yourself, LOL. And then the next rule is that some things are literally out of your control so all you can do is make the very best of them. Quite often, returning to things that bring you comfort & pleasure, & implementing ways of working that are beneficial to you, really help dissipate some of the anxiety & most definitely increase your feelings of self-worth! Hanging out with good friends & colleagues who are all routing for you, who are willing to help & who are there to remind you that they believe in you, were hugely motivating factors for me.
I’m going to finish this blog by congratulating my colleagues on our massive, collectively-earned success – you’re bloody fantastic!
And also, I’m going to say, ‘I still got it.’ Because I have!