Life After Cancer?

The Story of an Over Achieving, A-star student, Workaholic

My name is Rebecca Allen and today I turn 41, an age I wasn’t convinced I would reach when I received my cancer diagnosis a few years ago. This is my story…

From an early age I was always a hard working over achiever. I grew up in a very loving home where Mum and Dad made huge sacrifices for things like my private education. My naïve adolescent brain felt I ought to repay those sacrifices by being the best at everything I did, striving only for the A-star grades, beating myself up if I even dared bring home a B-grade. Yet, my loving parents just wanted me to be happy and I didn’t have siblings with whom to compete…. from an early age my own worst enemy was ME.

Fast forward to my late teens and I had not only got a Saturday job at my local high street superstore, I had registered for their Management Development Programme becaming my region’s youngest member of the management team. Yet again I thought I was repaying my parents’ sacrifices by being at the top of my game, where being happy (pah!) was just not good enough.

In charge of a store on a busy Saturday, a man walked up to me on the Jewellery counter and told me he would use the gun underneath his coat if I didn’t hand over the contents of the safe and six tills. Most sane people would give him what he wanted; knowing the jewellery and thousands of pounds of cash would be insured. Oh no, not this over-achieving hard working top of the class A-star youngest member of the region’s management team. Heck no, I’d just had my appraisal that morning, he was having nothing from MY safe and MY tills….so instead, on that busy Saturday, I made the management decision to evacuate the store of its customers and staff, so that I could be locked in to the store alone with this robber and his gun, so that I could sit down and logically and rationally explain to him why he couldn’t have MY money that day. Hmmm, you can guess how that one panned out? One diagnosis of PTSD and several investments in psychotherapy later, I can type this with a wry, knowing grin. Logic? Rationale? Pah, all goes out of the window when you’re a workaholic who wants to keep a good appraisal score.

Look at me in the story so far, I’m only in my late teens and already my body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. Neuroscience proves that chronic stress, found in these hormones can wear down our body’s defenses, lowering our immune system and making us more vulnerable to sickness, including cancer.

Fast forward to my early thirties, and after “The Robbery” I hid behind the scenes, and found myself working in HR. You know the drill here, I went in at entry level HR admin, but that was never going to be good enough for this over-achiever and so I ended my thirties at HR Director level. You get the feel for what sort of over-achieving hard working top of the class A-star grade youngest member of the region’s management team sort of HR professional I just had to be. Only, I was starting to understand Emotional Intelligence, and was starting to notice that it was ME who was in competition with ME.

I was becoming my worst enemy, and I was losing friendships and relationships daily, in sacrifice for being at the height of a successful career.

By then, I was working as an International HR Consultant in the music industry; so let’s just say I wasn’t exactly getting my advised 8 hours of sleep per night! According to renowned sleep expert Matthew Walker, routinely sleeping less than 6 hours per night demolishes your immune system and doubles – yes, DOUBLES, your risk of getting cancer.

It was the kind of career where you could afford the red-soled heels and the Porsche and “popped” to Paris just for lunch, falling over in SoHo at 5am with the latest chart-topping artist, and then heading to “proper grown-up” board meetings straight after breakfast.

Yes, I was that soul-less workaholic that measured my worth by the contents of my phone book and bank account, rather than the contents of my heart. I shudder as I type this, as I no longer recognize, or respect, who that woman was. She was broken, she was lonely, she was poorly, but of course the brave face was always switched on, the superhero pants were always on, despite my world being fuelled solely by caffeine, alcohol, adrenaline and airport meals on the run.  The exact kind of lifestyle that has a direct link to cancer.

They say that it’s always the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Despite being in the middle of a $50 million takeover bid with a competitor, affecting 300 employees worldwide, that wasn’t enough to break this over-achieving workaholic camel. Oh no, it was a harmless passing comment from a co-Director about me being 30 seconds late for a meeting that we were about to attend. Cue meltdown, panic attack in the Boardroom, full-on humiliating snot bubble cry-fest….yet it became Day One of my wonderful new life.

You see, later that day, when I had calmed down a little and had agreed with my loving family to seek help from my GP, in those ten minutes that GP saved my life. He quite honestly saved my life.

I walked out with a prescription for anti-depressants, a sicknote confirming a mental breakdown and the phone number of a private psychotherapist who was the region’s best at supporting with work-related stress. Once I had got over the shame of needing these three things (which I now see as wonderful life saving changes, but at the time saw a filthy sordid failing mess) I set about in my over-achieving workaholic way to get myself better, and take some time out of the busy work life. I had seen one of those Facebook memes that pointed out that if we die at work it will only take our employer a week to replace us. As the HR Director I knew this was true, and the stubborn part of me kicked in to finally put my needs first.

I embarked on my first week of sickness with a motivated gutsy determination to get better that has fuelled me ever since to make my mental health my priority. A few weeks later I went back to the GP, updating him with pride on my progress with my Psychotherapy sessions, but finally admitting that I wasn’t quite ready to go back to that stressful work environment.

He agreed to renew my sick note for a further period of time, but on one condition. He pointed out that I hadn’t had the “female MOT”, that horrible test that has every female reader of this blog cringing with a knowing nod. Too many women put off having this test, blaming not having shaved their legs, or wearing the wrong type of pants, or quite literally because it is hell. I had put it off for six years because I was far too busy being an over-achiever workaholic and was far too busy and important hob-nobbing with A-listers in SoHo to look after my personal wellbeing.

Anyway, one hellish test later and the results were back.

I. Had. Cancer.

Oh. That’ll stop a workaholic in her tracks then.

How was I going to workaholic my way around that one eh?

Long story short, the NHS were wonderful and I had a series of operations that gave me a clear bill of health. I was fortunate enough to get the all clear, which then gave me the absolute kick up the bum to sort my mental health out. They were some VERY dark days, but I knew if I could bounce back from a mental breakdown and Cancer then I could get through anything in life.

When the penny finally dropped that I needed to heal my mind as well as my body, I embarked upon my hypnotherapy journey. I had tried a few different therapies – counselling and CBT to name a few – and although they were useful, I still didn’t quite feel it had enough “oomph” to propel me forward in to my new life.

I had always been a keen subscriber to the belief around focusing on what you DO want, rather than what you DON’T, using methods like “The Secret” to manifest what I was looking for in life. I learnt through my research that this was summarised as “solution focused” so set to Google to find a course to suit my needs.

That was when my life turned a corner. There was a course starting a few weeks later all about solution focused hypnotherapy. It was made for me! After attending the Open Evening at Clifton Practice Hypnotherapy Training in Peterborough I enrolled and after the first weekend of the course knew my life was back on track.

I loved the course so much for my own therapeutic needs that halfway through the course I decided to resign from my well-paid HR job, finish the course, and use my new qualifications to help others in the same boat as me.

I have never looked back and am so proud to have helped so many people, and their families, step forward in to their positive futures.

And although there is currently no direct link proved between mental illness and cancer, we do know that reducing stress and anxiety leads to the kind of lifestyle changes that reduces our risk of cancer – lower that stress and we are more likely to look after our physical health better through healthier eating and exercise and less self medicating with alcohol, drugs and over eating. And with 40% of cancer cases being seen as preventable I am proud to have been even just a small part of reducing that number.

My Happy Ending … Or New Beginning! Life After Cancer…

And now, for my happy ending, we fast forward to my early forties. As I sit and type this, I can feel my babies kicking in my swollen pregnant belly. (Yes, the workaholic might have chilled out, but I’m still the over-achiever that can’t just do what normal people do and make one baby at a time, no, I have to be the over-achiever that splits her own egg to make twins…I like to call that effective time management!!).

Today’s most stressful challenges are whether to sit in the garden after typing this, or pop to Tesco for the nutritious home-cooked ingredients that I will cook for my soulmate, the man who I have known since I was 7 years old, yet the universe only let him stand right in my path when I started to clear my brain of all the stress and mess and chaos. I just wasn’t ready for him any sooner, and now our family is about to double in size as we prepare our nest for our twin girls.

I might no longer have the Porsche, or the red-soled heels, but I have love, relationships, food in the fridge and a roof over my head. Who needs the rest when it comes at such a cost to life?

I have vowed to all four of us that I will never go back to that old life. She’s gone now, and she’s not ever welcome back.

About the Author:

Rebecca Allen was an HR Director for 20 years in the corporate sector, during which time she ran her own successful national consultancy business. She then faced several traumatic setbacks, including a mental breakdown and a diagnosis of cervical cancer.

Since then, she has retrained as a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and has developed a passion for Mental Health Education. Rebecca works tirelessly to show other people, who may have been just like her, that they can get through the darkest of times. Her story is moving; hard-hitting at times, but hugely inspirational, motivating others to move forward with their own mental health issues, using our modern neuroscientific Solution Focused approach.

 

If you would like to explore how hypnotherapy can help you get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation with your local Inspired to Change hypnotherapist. Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are based across the UK in Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Somerset.

Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are all recognised by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, the UK’s leading not-for-profit hypnotherapy professional association.

To find out how you can train as a solution focused hypnotherapist click here for our hypnotherapy school information.