A Manifesto for Kicking Cancer’s Ass: on taking back your power through the wisdom of scouting parties, hope operas and joy experiments.

While I originally shared this with friends and family as a video on Facebook, at the heart of this is a very personal journey with losing my job just days after being diagnosed with a recurrence of my cancer last month. The challenge of finding work while I’m fighting this battle seemed like standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up. At least it did until my brother invited me to consider this in a very different way. I explain that in the note below, but the TL;DR version is this: he reminded me of the wisdom that April Rinne shares about “portfolio careers”.

This may be a very different article from what I usually share, starting with the title, but I think it’s an honest and relevant conversation for the millions of people that, like me, face the cancer journey in the workplace. I hope you’ll receive it in the spirit it’s intended: an invitation to consider a different path and, in no small part, a joyful celebration of living an authentic life, including in the workplace.

As April shared in her podcast:

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” — Lao Tzu.

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Yesterday I got some really hard news. For the first time, I actually allowed myself to believe that cancer might kill me. Like I said in my video chat, I was throwing a pity party with everything except the wine. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling, and then let it move through you. But that moment also needs an expiry date, and while this journey is more of a rollercoaster than a straight line, that has to include moving forward and up.

I’ve had a number of very long conversations with my brother, John. For a baby brutha, he’s always been a wise old soul. He was my most trusted ally when we were going through this very battle with my mum as she fought breast cancer, too, as her mum did before her. What I loved about John was his stealth mode. He was the one that did very little talking, and when he did speak, it was with a quiet calm and an economy of words. You could see him reading the room, watching and weighing, then offering up the gift of some very pragmatic nugget of perspective, clarity and candour that the rest of us were struggling for. John also has a rapier wit, the kind of dark humour that I love as I’m down in the pits of despair, struggling for a way back up. Levity is good. Very, very good. These things together make him one of the people I lean on now as I fight to find a way through this darkness back to the place of light where I thrive most.

Yesterday he busted out one particularly brilliant can of whoop-ass when I was trying to sort through the fistfuls of very hard news my surgeon had delivered earlier that day. In a nutshell, he reminded me that I get to choose. Not just my treatments and how I move forward through cancer, but the very essence of what my life looks like in the days ahead, no matter how short or how long. This may seem like an obvious thing, but it was like a lightning bolt.

I know I’m not alone in saying that, for much of my life, I’ve operated from a place enshrouded by self-limiting beliefs. Some of these I armoured myself with from a very early age, others as the years wore on, and various turning points made me choose coping mechanisms to survive. Some of these choices served me well. Many of them did not, or at least do not now. Here’s why this was an epiphany on a day when I was questioning whether or not cancer was about to take my life: whether I have a few years left, or a few decades, I don’t have to live them the way I’ve lived the ones in the past.

I lost my job just days after my diagnosis, and I’m struggling to imagine how the hell I’m going to get anyone to hire me when I’m battling triple-negative invasive breast cancer for the second time, about to be sidelined with months of crippling chemo and not really knowing what the end game looks like. That scares the crap out of me. It ratchets my stress levels up and keeps me awake at night. It definitely doesn’t help me meet the battle ahead.

To that, my brother said: Have you considered retiring? Filling your life with the things that bring you joy? And while, for a moment, my first thought was the utter financial infeasibility of that at 58 years old, it finally hit me: why the hell not? By retiring, John wasn’t telling me to stop working; he was inviting me to reconsider what the very idea of working meant at all. That invitation to pause and think on that was kind of mind-blowing. What if the very things I loved most were my work? How do I monetize those things? And the next thought was something April Rinne talks about: portfolio careers. Having a diverse and joyful set of revenue streams. I’ve spent so much time ruminating about the idea of needing a traditional job with benefits to keep the roof over my head and cover my meds that I never actually believed that there was even an alternative, or that I was genuinely capable of making that work.

And you know what? I am.

So, this brings me to 3 very specific things that live fully in my heart: my passion for storytelling, being a better world scout, and, on a very broad scale, my art (crafting jewelry, composing music, digital world-building and a host of other joyful mediums for creating).

So this is me, suiting up. My first task is to dust off my storytelling in a way that not only honours my better world scout bent but helps me keep the roof over my head. And what better way to do that than through a set of simple scouting parties to help unearth the creative ways that other people have solved these problems before? One of the first I want to tackle is an article on work for warriors while kicking cancer’s a@# to the curb. How have other people solved this problem creatively and joyfully while on the journey I am on again right now? And true to my Adventure Diva self, I’d like to revisit a question I asked 3 years ago when I did this dance for the very first time: what does it mean to have adventures when you’re fighting cancer?–with an additional caveat–during the time of COVID?

There is another project that came to me on one of many recent sleepless nights, and it’s how I’m going to explore some of the more complicated issues around self-image when losing not only your hair but your breasts and choosing to opt-out of reconstructive surgery. I’ve been a pretty comfortably reclusive single girl for the last ten years who had, just before cancer came calling again, decided I was ready to start dating again. If the idea of learning to do that again at 58 years old didn’t scare me enough, throwing in the cancer card and taking away my hair and my breasts–the latter for good–really made the prospect of dating feel like standing at the foot of Mount Everest. On a sleepless, 3 a.m. fever-drenched night, I was given the gift of an idea about how to use my love for digital world-building to test-drive that in a pretty joyful way. While I’m not ready to let the cat out of the bag on that one just yet, I’m anxious to share more about how I’m going to use that to invite other women to join me in a conversation about exactly what it means to be a woman. I want to explore what it means to do that without pinning it on anatomy. I’ll be inviting a couple of bodacious joy experiments to try on some new ideas about body image, personal worth, resilience and power. Sort of digital training wheels to learn how to navigate the world in a new body

24 hours ago, almost to the minute, I was getting news that left me asking if I am now, in fact, actually fighting for my life. Right now, I’ve flipped that question on its head and am asking a new one: what am I going to make of the life I have left, no matter how short or how long?

So, I start with 2 more questions that the original better world scout, Tom Munnecke, taught me to ask:

1. What works?

2. How can we do more of that?

I won’t just let you know what I find out on the other side. I’m inviting you to hop in for the ride. We’re going to Thelma and Louise this sucker, but with a much better ending. Time to turn this Soap Opera into a Hope Opera.

Tawanda, baby!

Cancer can kiss my assets 💪 🎗️ 🤙

(To watch the video that inspired this, click here.)

#cancerwarrior #joblosses #futureofwork #reinventingwork #video #igotthis

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Solutions Journalist and Better World Technologist. Superpowers ▶ Asking 2 questions: 1) What works? and 2) How can we do more of that?

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Sue Braiden

Sue Braiden

Solutions Journalist and Better World Technologist. Superpowers ▶ Asking 2 questions: 1) What works? and 2) How can we do more of that?

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