Career Woman

How to keep your career going while coping with major illness


Each year almost 140,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Australia, and there is a plethora of other major illnesses that can strike at any time. These crises tend not to enter your life at the most opportune times, and few think about the implications of being sick while trying to run a successful business or juggle a career.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I went through radical surgery and three months of intense recovery, I thought my world had caved in and I didn’t know how I would survive.

It was pretty scary, but I made the decision to be very strong and determined and to use what was available to me in the medical field. Here are some of the major lessons I learned, and still take with me today:

1. Use work as an escape:

Being unwell is certainly a challenge, but you can’t let it engulf you. You need to find a way to get your mind away from your illness, or whatever it is you are experiencing. Being in business gives you that opportunity to park your illness for a while.

2. Be mindful who you share your story with:

When you’re in business, everyone needs you and no one thinks you have a life. Business associates, or clients, don’t want to hear about your problems, that’s not why they came to you for. Unless you have a caring and supportive colleague to send you a cancer care package as a surprise.

If you are always engulfed in your illness, they will soon look to work with someone who doesn’t have a problem. You’re better placed saving those conversations for close friends. It might mean you need to put up a professional front – ‘a fake it until you make it’ type scenario.

3. Don’t avoid the bank:

When your health isn’t at the top of its game, finance can also go through a bumpy patch and often this is the time when it catches up with you. Don’t shy away from the financial burden, you’re better off approaching the people you’re dealing with. Very often there is room to negotiate a plan around car repayments, school fees or your mortgage. It’s best to be upfront so they know you’re not avoiding them. It also prevents these issues escalating in your mind.

4. Compartmentalise your worries:

If you find that you’re struggling to maintain a positive attitude, allow yourself an hour or so to focus on your illness, or anything that is bothering you. Put it in a box that is addressed at a set time in your day, or night. Then you can park the feelings that need to be dealt with, without having them affecting your thought patterns throughout the day. Remember we’re all human and some days are worse than others. It’s OK to cry and let your emotions out – it’s no point bottling them up.

5. Embrace the new you:

If you look different because of the illness you’re going through, try to embrace it as the new you. If you’re in the phase of losing hair, try using it for a new beginning – and embrace it! In the early days there was a lot of embarrassment surrounding cancer, and a sense of trying to hide it, these days people are more accepting. You can actually come out of a shell and look really glamorous. Put make up on and make yourself look, and feel, good. For me lipstick is part of my agenda – a bit of lippy goes a long way for making me feel good.

6. Make use of power naps:

If you’re going through chemo or taking heavy medication you’re going to need to take some time out. Allocate time in your day where you have your own space and can have a power nap or just lie down for a few minutes to re-charge.

7. Reward yourself with ‘you’ time:

Whether it’s at night time or the first thing you do in the day, make sure to give yourself the time to do something pleasurable each day. It removes the cobwebs from your head and improves clarity – especially important if you’re battling an illness.

8. Take small steps:

When you’re on the journey back to health it’s important to take it one day at a time, and little by little. If you get good results back from your medical team, give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge that you’re getting there.

Overall you want to portray a positive outlook on the career and business front. It’s important to relay that you’re still the right person for the job. What is going on in the background is not interesting to anyone, other than close friends and family.

While my illness was a while ago, it never really goes away and it’s always in the back of my mind. Now it makes me stop and think, how can I be a better person.

About Lucy Cole

Lucy Cole Prestige Properties was established on the Gold Coast more than 18 years ago, now Lucy is one of the city’s leading real estate agents. She is one of the first female auctioneers, first female REIQ branch chairs and founder of a group aimed at supporting women in real estate. She’s also a major supporter of not for profit Gold Coast Hospital Foundation as supporting partner and sponsor for this weekend’s Gold Coast Hospital Foundation Hospital Heroes Ball. The Gold Coast Hospital Foundation raises funds to help deliver better health outcomes to patients and families receiving care at Gold Coast University Hospital, Robina Hospital and more than 40 health and medical facilities across the Gold Coast. Each year more than 95,000 locals overcome distress and medical hardship, through vital support services.

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