Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Cancer Journey and Career Aspirations - by Anjana Nathwani

This week's blog is written by Anjana Nathwani, a two time cancer survivor and Business Psychologist. She discusses how the experience of having cancer can enable you to develop some key skills in your life and career. 

According to MacMillan Cancer support “by 2020 almost half of Britons will get cancer in their lifetime – but 38% will not die from the disease.”

Treatment options and lifestyle choices mean that survival rates are greater and many continue to live and thrive. As a two time cancer survivor, I have experienced my career being disrupted! As I continue my life's journey, the unpleasantness of the cancer experience has helped me to be on a quest to be more determined and make choices that support my well-being in all aspects of my life.

As I enter the third phase of my career, I am convinced that the disruption has given me greater self-belief and confidence to turn my passion into action and challenge the bias that exists regarding the cancer journey.

The stereotypical perceptions of an employee that has the disease can be summed up as someone who will require time off, their performance may be affected, there will be disruption in the team and arrangements will have to be made to cover the workload.

Though the reality is different. Many patients now manage their treatment, career and life in tandem. “Returning to work during or after a breast cancer diagnosis can be a very positive step and may help some people move forward by maintaining or regaining some normality.”

Many cancer thrivers develop attributes that are of significant value to the changing context in which organisations function these. These attributes include:

1.   Zest for Life: employees returning to work post treatment tend to have renewed zest for life and a greater enthusiasm to achieve goals. (from research conducted by Athena Business Psychologists 2016). There is a willingness to maintain a perspective on work-life balance. 

2.   Resilience: is the much sought after leadership trait during disruptive times. The pain of the illness helps to develop resilience. Many studies on mind over matter indicate that patients with a strong will tend to recover and develop the ability to regulate emotions. ( Resilient people are able to change course and soldier on.

3.   Optimism to Thrive: illnesses present an opportunity to evaluate life in its entirety - what is working, what needs to stay and what needs to change? People make wise career choices and are committed to achieving goals, as life is not taken for granted.

Cancer impacts all age groups and therefore can disrupt careers at any point. The disruption is also to organisational cultures that are stubborn and are challenged to become more agile. Of course there is the light touch approach to well being that includes; mindfulness sessions, or offering gym memberships or private healthcare or nutrition seminars - these are all valuable and improve awareness, though does this go far enough for cancer patients?

Employees going through the cancer journey or who have been through the journey require a more customised all inclusive approach that is empowering. Empowerment is essential given the context of choices in relation to lifestyle changes and also treatment and follow up. Employers have a duty to care and there is also a business prerogative.

Increasingly Inclusion and Diversity strategies are encompassing well being approaches. There is a wider talent recruitment and retention dilemma that needs to be addressed as well. For instance, when someone declares the illness on an application form or mentions the illness during an interview what is the impact of this declaration? 

One in two by 2020 is a statistic that cannot be ignored!

Anjana Nathwani is a two time cancer survivor! She believes that cancer is a pause that can be nurtured to find purpose in life. She is a Business Psychologist who mentors cancer patients and thrivers on careers and lifestyle and well being. She also specialises in employee engagement in relation to well being and inclusive cultures.,

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