Archives for posts with tag: writing

One of the phrases most commonly associated with cancer is ‘life’s too short’. Then there’s ‘live every day as if it’s your last,’ ‘appreciate the little things’ and ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ While I absolutely agree with all of the above, I think that anyone who is living with, or has had, cancer will tell you that in practice they aren’t always possible.

When I had cancer, I wrote a list of all the places I’d visit and the goals I wanted to achieve after my treatment. Seven years on, I am fortunate enough to have ticked many things off that list. I took a ‘year out’ after my treatment and went back to university to get the Masters degree I’d always wanted. I went travelling, got 12 hours sleep a night and started to write a book. But if I’d stopped working the day I got cancer to live a stress-free life, I wouldn’t have been able to support myself.

So I went back to work. And, as much as I tried to avoid the levels of job-related stress that I believe contributed to my cancer in the first place, it wasn’t always possible. Like many people, I worked long hours and took on an increasingly extensive schedule involving late nights, long-haul travel and jetlag. If I’d hated my job, I would have quit without question, but I loved it. It’s just that I had other ambitions: to go freelance, to manage my own time, to finish writing my book*.

#50BestTalks_Single_Thread-103

Actually at work, September 2018 in Sonoma County, California (Portrait by Sara Beth Turner)

At the back of my mind there was one recurring niggle: if I am diagnosed with secondary cancer (which has happened to far too many of my friends) then will I wish I had gone freelance sooner? The answer, every single time, was yes. And yet holding me back were concerns that by quitting my job I might stunt my reputation and damage my career. I would miss out on trips and opportunities that were dangling like a carrot – the journalist’s equivalent of the banker’s bonus. So I stuck it out, just for one more year, then one more year, then one more year after that.

One thing I’ve learned is that fear often comes from other people. ‘How will you make money?’ ‘Won’t you get lonely?’ ‘Why don’t you stay just a little longer while you decide?’ It’s easy to look at other people’s lives and be put off doing what you know is right for you. But when I silenced the other voices and just listened to my own, I realised it was time to quit. So I left my *amazing* job after five years and, from the very first day, I knew it was the best decision I ever made.

I created the office space I’d always dreamed of – it’s a five-second commute from my bed and my kitchen, the dress code is pretty lax and I don’t have to argue with anyone over the air conditioning. Oh, and my new colleagues are pretty chill.

JLYG1097

Office bants

I got off relatively scot-free from the side effects of tamoxifen but I do suffer from fatigue. I sleep 10 hours a night and there are days of the month when I simply can’t get out of bed. For years I forced myself to get up and do a long commute when my body said no, and it was one of the reasons for quitting.

I no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost discipline. Working for myself, I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been, because I have to be. It’s just that I can hustle from 11am to 9pm if I like – no one is tying me to strict hours. I can go to the gym or the post office or my hospital appointments in the middle of the day. I hope we get to the point where all employers trust their staff to work wherever they want to work (within reason) as long as they get the job done.

I’m not saying everyone should quit their job – they shouldn’t. And I’m not saying treat every day like it’s your last – I, for one, would be lying under a pile of cats, comatose from eating the biggest ever Sunday roast, and that just wouldn’t do. But do listen to the voice in your head, and if it’s telling you time after time there’s something you really want to do, then don’t put off it for tomorrow. Tomorrow might never come.

Curtis Brown June 2019

The reception area at C&W / Curtis Brown

*A little update on the book:

Well, I finished writing it – it took me three and a half years to get to that stage and was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done. Buuuuuuut… I am incredibly excited to reveal that I just signed with an amazing literary agent at C&W in London. It’s just another step in a long process, but fingers crossed it works out. I can’t wait for the day my novel is on the shelf alongside these amazing authors!

IMG_6429The day I quit Bloomberg in March 2012, I expected my managers to be mad at me. I was abandoning the company to which I’d devoted most of my 20s, and I was leaving my colleagues in the lurch.

Instead, the wise bureau chief gave me a hug and said “You’ll never regret leaving any job. Every time you leave a company or make a big change, things always work out for the best.”

Fourteen months on, I can honestly say he was absolutely right. Things did work out for the best. Just not exactly in the way we both imagined.

It turned out the decision to quit Bloomberg and leave Argentina was the decision that saved my life. The move to Ireland prompted me to return to the doctors for a second medical opinion, and the rest is history.

IMG_6431So, when a colleague at Facebook said the exact same thing when I told him I was leaving today, I couldn’t help but smile. Everything happens for a reason.

Some people have found it hard to see why I’ve been – for the most part – a happier person since cancer came into my life, and it’s always been a little hard to explain. Now, here goes:

When I was about six years old, I knew exactly what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to be the editor of a magazine. From the day I learned to write, I was scribbling down stories, typing away furiously in MS-DOS and making my own magazines with cut-out pictures and Pritt Stick. Over the years, I broadened my interests and grew to love a lot of things, from acting to languages to teaching to sport. But one thing always remained constant: my passion for writing.

Somehow, though, my career took a different path. I took a languages degree, travelled the world, became a financial journalist. Seven years into my career, I left Bloomberg – partly for personal reasons, partly because I had lost track of my goals and wasn’t passionate enough about finance. I moved into a job at Facebook, continuing with my love of languages and Latin America, but it wasn’t right.

IMG_6114Then I got cancer, and every instinct in my body told me to write, write, write. And it was the easiest thing in the world: writing about something close to my heart, something I knew, something I truly cared about, something people wanted to read about.

Apart from my Mum and Dad, to whom I owe everything, writing was the thing that got me through the last 11 months of hell. My blog was what connected me with my friends, family and colleagues past and present when I was too sick to keep in touch with them in person. My blog was the thing that put me in touch with a whole new set of friends – a group of girls all over the world with whom I have cancer in common but who are by no means defined by their cancer.

But there comes a time when the Cancer part stops and the Life part starts again. I will continue this blog because there is still plenty to say and people who are benefiting from it, but I will be writing more and more about other things and the cancer part will take a back seat. It’s a shame when it takes a major illness to push you to follow your dreams, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that life is way too short.

photo(1)Tomorrow is my last day at Facebook and after that I plan to take a few months to properly rest and reflect on the crazy year I just had.

In September, I’ll be moving back to London to start the MA Magazine Journalism at City University – a course I’ve wanted to do for about a decade but never got the chance because life was too busy passing me by. I may be the oldest student in the class, probably doing my knitting in the back row and drinking cups of tea while the rest of the class go out drinking, but that’s ok. I’m doing it for me.

I will be forever grateful for the amazing times I had working at both Facebook and Bloomberg – two brilliant companies that taught me so much. From the lifelong friends I made at Bloomberg, to the people at Facebook who supported me through the hardest time of my life over the past year. I’m so lucky to have worked with so many talented, inspiring people at both companies and I don’t regret a single moment of my career so far.

When I was on sick leave, a colleague wrote a career testimonial in which the main message was “Find what you love”. A couple of weeks before me, she took heed of her own advice and jumped bravely into an unknown world of book-writing and doing what she loves. She didn’t even need cancer to spur her on.

When I announced my resignation from Facebook a couple of weeks ago, a big smile spread across my manager’s face. While there is the smallest possibility that he was just pleased to get rid of me, I’m pretty sure the smile indicated he was happy because he knew I’d found what I loved.

IMG_6268

%d bloggers like this: