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The Operational Excellence Show

Apr 24, 2020

Today’s episode was supposed to be about the Ritz Carlton’s awesome customer experience - but over the last week or so - friends, colleagues, acquaintances - simply - just people - have been asking me

“How do you deal with this lock-down”? You seem so content - not worried at all? 

That got me thinking… - because I very well know what it means to be worried - worried for my life.

On the 29 September 2015, just three days before my wedding to Kevin, we were told by a very competent surgeon and an ever so lovely MacMillan Nurse that I had stage 3 bowel cancer - potentially stage 4 - as there was also a growth on the liver. I was given a survival rate of about 30% if it was only stage 3 - significantly lower if it turned out to be stage 4.

Was I worried - I was mortified! Not prepared at all! I had none of the typical symptoms, I only went to see my doctor because I couldn’t shake off a viral infection I caught earlier in the year. 

I was at the height of my career, a carefully built career, loved my job, had a beautiful family and a soon to be husband. I had it all, things went well - I lived a wonderful life. I considered myself privileged. Within the space of 5 min - all of that counted for nothing anymore

I’ve always had a positive outlook to life - and what’s happening in the world. On our family table politics was a permanent topic, but also religion and faith. My dad was a minister in the protestant church of Switzerland - and no doubt his life and how we practiced his strong faith influenced my thinking and my attitude to life and death. 

Whilst there was an initial shock - I remember asking my fiancee whether he still wanted to marry me, after all he could be a widower in no time - I pretty quickly fell on my two feet...

I manage my cancer journey using a project plan! And made evidence based decisions in relation to my treatment.

A good project plan has got one end goal - mine was survival. With a number of milestones - usually different milestones per workstream. 

My workstreams were simple: medical treatments and sport / fitness.

My milestones became chemo sessions attended and daily steps taken using a step counter. 

For my chemo sessions - every week one or two days before the Friday I sent all the observations of the last round to my oncologist - so that she could make “evidence based” decisions. My 3-weekly blood tests, my experience with the drugs throughout the cycle and my weight were the evidence for decision making on the treatment plan.

My steps (starting with 2500 steps at the start of the chemo cycle - going up to 5000 towards the end of the chemocycle) provided evidence of fitness level and mental health.

Now - at no point did I actually know what was going to happen next. I simply couldn’t know! 

I couldn’t expect life to be predictable or fair for that matter during my illness. There was also no point to pretend everything was fine, or telling myself a feel-good lie.

All I could do was to embrace the uncertainty of this whole life-or-death deal. And as I did that - some weird clarity started to surface! There is a humility that comes with realising that you're not the glorious plans you made for your life!  - And here is where my faith came in. I never knew that I still had it! I was busy, working hard, chasing goals, promotions etc. Yet - in my cancer journey it surfaced, quietly but steadily. And it has stayed with me ever since!!

So lets put this into perspective today

1. Making a plan is still the best way to move forward. It may or may not materialise. But if you don’t have a plan, you can’t be held accountable! No accountability means your progress is much slower or isn’t happening at all! And - if you change things - you don’t know why you changed or what you changed - because there was no plan in the first place.

2. Keeping your fitness up is absolutely paramount! It breaks my heart to read statistics about children having gained weight because of the lockdown - they didn’t get enough exercise. Or adults seriously suffering from depression because they didn’t get out, or joined a fitness class online etc. 

3. Be kind to yourself and to others - do not pretend all is well if it’s not. None of us can be up-beat and positive all the time! I know we see this on social media. Everyone seems to be doing so great. Learning new things, enjoying downtime, etc. Guys - if you are honest with yourself - you know that this is not true. Be kind to yourself - you are not Superman or Superwoman!

I recently read an article by David Brooks, a columnist with the NY Times called - “Screw this Virus”  - it so eloquently refers to how we could deal with today’s situation.
There is a link below.

Stay Safe!

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