NED & Ambition

I’d say I’ve always been an ambitious person. Not in the corporate ladder climbing sense of the word, but I’ve always had big goals, I’ve always imagined the future 5, 10, 20 years out. Some of these goals were personal, others professional.

Right now, not yet a year out from 1st line treatment and still clinging to my NED status, I’m feeling extremely disoriented when it comes to ambition, and I’m surprised by the multitude of ways this is affecting me in my day to day life.

Decision making - what to do, what to prioritize - has become quite challenging. At work, I find myself extremely uncomfortable planning initiatives that are going to take more than a few months to pay off. And unfortunately a big chunk of my work right now has a long-range pay off. I also struggle a lot with the percentage of time and energy I commit to work generally. In the past, I’ve thrown myself at my work whole-heartedly, perhaps at times a little too much. But at the moment I have days - today is one - where I feel the likelihood of an imminent death very acutely. These days are normally triggered by the news that someone with a diagnosis and personal situation (age, young family, treatment plan etc) very similar to mine, has died. This makes my risk suddenly seem very real.  In the last week I seem to have had news like this almost everyday. Frankly, I find it quite paralysing from a work perspective. It jolts me out of my little ‘back at work’ bubble. Am I being stupid spending time in work meetings when these might turn out to be the last few months I could be spending with my kids, particularly without the side effects of chemotherapy or other treatment ? Alternatively, I might hit the cancer jackpot and live another 40 years, in which case pulling back from my professional life at 37 would look foolish in hindsight.

I’ve come to really dislike people saying “well, we’re all going to die sometime”, as if to imply I’m over dramatising my situation, and that everyone is really subject to the same dilemma in the grand scheme of things. The statement is true of course, but not everyone has a chemotherapy port installed in their chest as a constant reminder that the current respite from cancer treatment is likely very temporary. Not everyone is unable to get any form of insurance - even travel insurance - because insurers see your imminent death as highly likely.  I feel bombarded by reminders on a daily basis that death is not just definite, it’s likely imminent, and I don’t think that’s an experience shared by everyone.

This is also quite an isolating sensation. You don’t want to be a ‘downer’ for your family or your work colleagues. You’re meant to be upbeat and positive about your prognosis right? Positive thinking and all. You don’t want to cause family unnecessary angst and you don’t want to cause work colleagues unnecessary discomfort.  But as everyone around you books family holidays a year in advance, or talks about a work project that will be reviewed in a years time, the more you find yourself having a very personal internal dialogue.

I think this has a big impact on personal relationships. I find myself unusually nervous about investing in new relationships - at work or personally - because in a way I feel like it's unfair on others. Who wants to get tangled up with someone who has such a high likelihood of going through something pretty ugly in the near future. One exception is other people with a bad diagnosis, and so I find my personal circle filling with people who are likely not long for this world.

It’s all a little warped. Would love to hear how other NED’ers, particularly those with professional jobs or their own businesses, are dealing with the question of how to stay ambitious and up beat - both personally and professionally - despite all the health uncertainty.