For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2021, Ovacome member Katie wanted to raise awareness of the impact of an ovarian cancer diagnosis for all those whose lives are touched by the disease. As well as sharing her own story, Katie wanted to share the stories and perspectives of those who have supported her throughout her diagnosis and treatment - in their own words. In this first post, Katie's boss John shares his experience.

.

Shock. Disbelief. Helplessness. Admiration. Pride.

All emotions that I have found myself going through these last few months as I have watched Katie successfully take on her fight against ovarian cancer. Her story has been truly inspirational to me and to my colleagues and it is brilliant (and really quite typical) to see her using her experience positively to help raise the profile of this hugely important topic during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

When Katie asked me to write a blog from my perspective, I agreed immediately. But I confess since then I have faced the task with some trepidation and a big dose of writer’s block. I have only had a bit part in her story, so what can I possibly add to the narrative? However, on reflection, as a leader there is no rule book to cover this type of situation and no training course that can really prepare you for dealing with it.

I have certainly learnt from the experience and so I hope sharing some of these learnings might help other leaders out there when, god forbid, they face similar circumstances.

Listen and show flexibility.

When Katie gave me the news, I was truly taken aback. What should I say? What should I do? How could I help? My advice to any line manager facing this situation is that your first role is to listen and provide reassurance that the work can wait.

In particular, no matter how churned up you feel inside, it’s important to stay calm and find ways to offer pragmatic support. Establish what help they need and when. Each scenario is different and the situation changes.

In the early days Katie wanted to keep things as normal as possible but, when her situation changed, we were able to react and adjust her working hours to allow her to manage her symptoms and energy levels. A small act in the scheme of things, but I know it helped her at the time.

Take care of the admin.

Banks famously work to procedures and they are there for a reason. They can also be onerous and a distraction at a time when there are frankly a whole host of competing priorities for your colleague’s time and energy. In Katie’s case things were further complicated by her status as a secondee and the covid pandemic.

Behind the scenes, with great proactive support from HR, we were able to limit the admin and make the process (from medical procedures, to leave of absence, to relocation back to the UK), as smooth as possible. Hopefully this was one area that Katie didn’t need to spend too much time worrying about.

Stay in touch and keep regular contact.

Once Katie was ‘off-island’ and commencing treatment, I was keen to stay in regular contact, without being obtrusive. We agreed how and when we would stay in touch. In the early days that meant irregular WhatsApp’s, but as her recovery has progressed we started to schedule more regular zoom calls.

For me it was a hugely positive moment when her camera came on for the first time, as it felt like a turning point in her fight. Throughout this period, I saw my role as not just staying connected to Katie, but keeping her connected to the organisation and the different internal stakeholders who would be key to help her return to work, when the time was right.

Help to look to the future.

It’s great that Katie is now transitioning back to work in the UK. That means that technically my role as a Line Manager is over, but I believe I still have a role to play in helping her to navigate her next career choices and ensure that she fulfils her aspirations. She knows I’ll be available whenever she needs a sounding board or a different perspective.

As a line manager, you want to get to know your team mates, to help them to succeed at work and to support them to make progress against their career goals.

You never expect to have to deal with an illness like cancer in someone so young. When it happens, there is no rule book and no right way to deal with it, but you have to recognise that you can play a positive role in helping them fight this dreadful disease. I hope I did that in a small way at least.