By Tina Conrad
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sound of the alarm clock at 5am, a reminder to get up and moving to join the frantic pace of corporate America.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sound of cars stacked up painfully moving towards work at a snail’s pace and then again heading home late at night.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The many sounds of the doctor’s office equipment. Take your choice, the blood pressure machine as my heart raced ahead filled with impending dread or the giant mammogram machine as the kind nurse tried to calm my fears…
Then came the words “you have cancer”… SILENCE…
All of the familiar sounds were drowned out by the shock and pain of a cancer diagnosis at the age of 37. How could this happen to me? Why did this happen to me? These questions were replaced with a barrage of treatment plans, doctors’ visits, clean margin conversations, surgeries, therapy. A totally new and unfamiliar life lie ahead of me. Work continued, corporate life continued whether I was there or not. Suddenly a giant spotlight shone on my life’s purpose, just like the ugly cancer cells in the mammogram.
One night, in the quiet of my house I realized that while I was doing everything in my treatment plan necessary to fight the cancer, I was still working. I was still surrounded by stress. I was not 100% focused on me, and I needed to be 100% focused on me. This was not selfish, this was self-preservation. My oncologist strongly advised me to take a medical leave and to focus on activities that made me happy. Question was, what made me happy anymore? It was no longer planning endcaps for a mass retail chain for optimal holiday sales. It was no longer planning advertising and pricing and analyzing revenue and margins. Slowly and surely in my nearly 3 months leave, I found joy in the simplicity. I realized the power of making a pizza from scratch. With a pile of flour billowing from my hands and the warm water mixing with the change agent yeast.
For years, I was a fast paced, adrenaline junkie that did not have time to stop for yoga poses. Give me cardio or give me death was my motto. But in my medical leave, I found time to slow down, to breathe, to practice letting go. I cried as the instructor on my Gentle Yoga DVD described yoga as give and take, being kind to yourself. This was all new and unchartered territory, but I became a disciple of yoga every morning, as the sunlight streamed through the windows in the cold winter Midwest days.
When I found myself back at work, my job had not changed, but I had. It was still crazy, frenetic, fast paced, filled with meeting after meeting, where you wondered when you would actually get to go to the bathroom or eat a meal. Mentally, the chemo took its toll on me, but emotionally it was even worse. I just could no longer sit in these meetings without a purpose. I could not point fingers at someone in another department that was not there to defend themselves. I could no longer work for a company that did not have the same values that I shared.
I landed at a company that cares about Breast Cancer. They even have a foundation for Breast Cancer Research. They encourage associates on Thursdays to wear pink, not because it’s pretty, but to celebrate the research, the culture and the company values. This job also gave me something else. Time!!! With a short commute (10 minutes!) and a work life balance focus, I now had time to write my podcast stories, research my podcast guests and record!
I started my podcast DJ Breast Cancer in late 2018, inspired by my friend and pink sister Sandy Clausen. She was in support group and her kindness helped me with rides to treatment. Sandy had a recurrence of breast cancer and passed away, leaving me wondering again what I am going to do with my time here on earth. What is my greater purpose?
My ‘Passion, Purpose and Podcast’ is what my life is currently focused on. Once I understood this, I knew I had found what I had been searching for all this time. It began with a simple mission of inspiring H.O.P.E (Help One Person Everyday). I knew that I had a unique perspective after facing breast cancer twice as the daughter and then my own diagnosis. I was fortunate enough to never have faced breast cancer alone as I had my mom, but so many others are facing a diagnosis with no family history and nobody to turn to for support.
I am amazed how a podcast show can enrich not only the lives of others, but definitely my own. I love the connections it has provided and insight into other’s lives that I would never had the opportunity without my breast cancer diagnosis. I will always say I’m not happy I had breast cancer and I would not wish it on my worst enemy, but it also has been a gift. It provided me with a purpose. It stopped me from the hamster wheel, roller coast life and made me appreciate each and every day with a new sense of purpose and love. It changed me to my core and I want to inspire others to use their gifts to help others, to share their stories and create a sense of community and sisterhood.
Take some time away from the noise to reflect on what you truly want to do. Dream Big! And then go do it!!