“My kids are 13 and 15 years old so, they’re not so young that we have to protect them from this information, and they will remember this. What I realize now, maybe more than ever, it that it’s about the long game. My choices everyday teach them for the future. My husband and I started talking about what I’m going through. Like why the screenings matter and what all of these appointments are for,” said Kelly Russell, Business Leader and Breast Cancer Advocate.
Most of us live in perpetual go-mode. Unless we’re asleep, we’re on and in service. Whether it’s for our families or careers, there’s a lot to do and little time to pause. But what happens when life forces you to prioritize yourself?
Most of us will face life altering events. Yet we rarely get to choose the plot twists. When Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer, three weeks after starting a new job, she had to reset and find her path. Despite the challenges, she’s embraced a response to uncertainty that will ultimately strengthen her and her family. Learn how to adapt and evolve through a catastrophe with grace and grit.
Be Ruthless About Managing Your Energy
Although Moms make the majority of family health decisions, it’s no secret we routinely abandon self-care, despite its importance. And in the past few years it’s been worse due to Covid. So, preventative health checks, including cancer screenings were way down. But in the US over 2 million people will be diagnosed this year, nearly 300,000 with breast cancer alone, which overwhelmingly affects women. And the impact across our communities is profound.
When asked about her own diagnosis Kelly explained, “The navigation is physical. But it’s also a career thing and a family thing. What I discovered pretty quickly is that the biggest part, is the mental game. I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and he asked me about my energy. And I think he was asking me about tiredness. But I said, ‘energy management is my number one job’ it’s literally everything. And I’ve realized where there were energy drains and frankly, that includes friendships.”
Spend Time with People Who Fulfill You
Kelly follows physical cues to establish boundaries that preserve her wellbeing. And shared a simple test we can all take. “Okay, when you see someone’s name come up on your phone, are you excited to pick it up? Or do you sigh? That’s something to pay attention to.” She also admits resting more and letting her family know when she’s going to bed early, that it’s because she’s rebuilding. “I am becoming unapologetic on how I manage my own energy and vibes that are coming in. I’m crystal clear now on people in my life who lift my energy up and those who are more work. And it doesn’t mean, I’ll say ‘see you later I’m done with you’ to those people. It just means I have to be conscious about that.”
Reduce Your Mental Load
Like many of us, Kelly’s life was beyond busy with her family, and career. So, she’s redefined self-care to become attentive to her physical and emotional needs. Most of us drown in the mental load each day and dialing it down is critical. She explained, “Sometimes just making decisions is draining. And sometimes I don’t want to make decisions about what the family’s eating that day. It’s interesting because through this, amazing support comes from every direction and there’s a spectrum.”
And Decision Fatigue
Did you know that we have a biological limit to the number of decisions we can make each day? Decision fatigue is another often overlooked source of stress. Kelly said, “Some people will say, ‘let me know what you need I’m here’ which is incredibly supportive. But I don’t know how to receive that because in some ways, it’s another decision that’s put on my plate. Then, I have friends who knock on the door and walk in with a crockpot and plug it in. I’m figuring it out as I go but I could not have predicted what a relief it was for my friend Deb to walk in with the crock pot and drop it on the counter. It was like, ‘oh my God dinner’s done for tonight’ and my shoulders went down, and I could take a second to breathe.”
Be as Transparent as You Can with Your Kids
Kelly described her experience with cancer as getting “instant clarity” and she’s determined to extract the wisdom for her kids. She said, “We more openly talk about examples we set for our kids on how we eat or exercise, but this is the same thing. How we respond to trauma or crises is also about setting an example.”
With teens, she can explain what’s happening in an age-appropriate way. So, she is intentional about navigating cancer openly. “I have conversations about it with my girlfriends, cousins or my Mom in the kitchen where everyone can hear me. I’m not in my closet hiding out. This is life and they’re learning life skills because of what we’re going through.”
Talk About The Logistics of Prevention
Kelly said, “We immediately think about advice in terms of daily health habits but other ones matter too. Like, telling your kids when you’re going to the doctor and why. Again, I’m coming from the point of view of having teenagers, but I speak to them in a way that I hadn’t before.”
Yes, including what a mammogram is really like. “I now say to my daughter, ‘when you get into your 30s and 40s there’s this screening that you do and it’s not fun. And they take your boob and smash it down like it’s a pancake. And I don’t understand why this machine has to work this way, it’s awful, but it matters and here’s why.”
Connect Your Chaos to the Big Picture
Kelly said, “So, it becomes this opportunity, to talk about more than just this kind of cancer and what we’re going through. Families are going through all sorts of other things. It sparks these bigger conversations that we probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to have. Had we not been going through what we’re going through.”
The mental health crisis has underscored the importance of teaching our kids about mental health management. And through the pandemic, and tragic world events, that includes how to deal with the hardest feelings and experiences. She added, “I realized that storytelling really matters.”
Share Your Story
It’s different to receive generic warnings about your health, than to hear directly from a friend who has changed her life. People ask Kelly often, ‘what they can do’ as I had when I first learned about her treatment.
She said, “I say, ‘what you can do is to get your mammograms and tell your Mom, sister or wife to do it’ and for guys to get their prostate screenings. If I’m having this experience, maybe the person next to me can learn and draw from it.”
And Hold Hope for Positive Change
Kelly explained, “Last year, I had started a new job on November 1st and was diagnosed on November 27th. At first there was inertia and not a lot of intentionality on my part, because everything changed in a day. And that’s one of my takeaways, that everything can change in a day, in a negative way. But everything can also change in a day in a positive way. And that’s the hope that I hold on to.”
Please get your screenings!
And help us, help parents and caregivers with cancer get the support they need at work. If you have ever been diagnosed with cancer, please take our brief new survey about your experiences. We will soon share results so, that more employers learn about the Pledge and what caregivers with cancer need to manage their health in concert with their careers.
Many thanks to the talented Kelly Russell!
Follow Kelly’s great adventure on LinkedIn.
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Kelly Russell is the Vice President of Client Growth for Arena Analytics and serves on the Development Committee for breast cancer non-profit, The Ellie Fund. She is passionate about creating exceptional customer and employee experiences and has served the Human Resources industry in leading technology companies, including: Monster.com, Care.com, and Bright Horizons, for more than 25 years.