From PE teacher to ski instructor – how coaching after cancer can help

In this guest blog post, Kaeti writes about how Shine’s coaching after cancer programme helped her to leave her old job and take her life in an exciting new direction.


What do you do when you realise that your ambition is no longer your ambition?

For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a PE teacher. When my friends in primary school were talking about being astronauts and vets, I wasn’t interested – all I wanted to do was teach. But being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 wasn’t in my career plan.

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Kaeti was 30 when diagnosed with breast cancer.

I really missed my job when I was on sick leave. However, at some point during my eight months of cancer treatment, I realised that I didn’t miss teaching. The problem wasn’t my workload (you might have been expecting that complaint!) – actually, I had no idea what it was. Still, I knew for a fact that something had shifted, and I needed to figure out what was different in order to move forward.

A couple of months into my treatment, I saw on social media that Shine Cancer Support was offering career coaching. This was just what I needed: someone to help me make sense of the fact that I desperately missed being at work, but also knew that my teaching days were numbered. I felt like a failure: teaching was all I had ever wanted to do. Before my diagnosis I had been certain that I would progress through the ranks to deputy headteacher, and maybe even headteacher one day. Yet now I was lost, and I didn’t know what to do.

I took up Shine’s offer of support and met Emily Lomax, my coach. Emily works over the phone or via Zoom, and for our first session I think I talked at her for 40 minutes. She listened patiently to my ramblings. My first session had coincided with my return to work. I was excited to be back, but I knew deep down that even though I loved the thought of being busy, being needed, and feeling focused again, the idea of being a teacher was distressing. Cancer had made me realise that I wanted change.

After that initial session, Emily sent me some tasks to complete. One was about prioritising my values and the other was about looking at my energy levels. I realised that my values hadn’t really changed since cancer, but that my energy at work had been affected. The majority of the time that I spent in my job, I was in the ‘burnout and surviving’ zone. After everything I had been through with my diagnosis and treatment, I needed to prioritise recharging in order to thrive. We discussed these tasks and Emily lead me to realise that as a teacher, I could do other things. I was focusing on the fact that I had a PE teaching degree and ‘that only qualifies me to teach PE.’ Emily got me to think about all the transferable skills I have that could be beneficial in other sectors.

After this session I decided to jazz up my CV. CVs are not widely used when applying for teaching jobs, so mine looked sad and dated. Comic Sans? What was I thinking?! I’m a keen skier, and I remembered that a friend who works in the industry had offered to pass on my CV to his company’s head office, should I ever want to move out of teaching. I sent him my CV, and also passed it to some other skiing companies. In the meantime, I finished my sessions with Emily and began considering my options. Should I stick with teaching? It paid well, and I was good at it. Should I pack it all in and do a ski season? Should I re-train as a cancer rehab personal trainer? Should I go abroad to teach? These questions were exhausting, but relevant. Whenever I considered an option I revisited Emily’s energy task handout, and that helped me decide the way forward.

Emily had helped me to understand that I love organising events. It was easily the best bit of my job. I needed to remember this and not let the pull of money, a secure career path, and pressure from colleagues change my mind. A few weeks after my last session with Emily, I got an email from the Head of HR at my friend’s skiing company. She was very complimentary of my CV (I had updated the font!) and invited me to the head office to discuss some job opportunities. I went for the chat during the Easter break, and a week later – while doing some holiday work for a different ski company – I realised that it was time to move on from teaching. It wasn’t failure, it was acceptance of my changing circumstances and the fact that I was allowed to have new ambitions. My ambition of being a PE teacher was over 20 years old. It was time to do something new.

A week later, the ski company contacted me to offer me the position of events coordinator. I was hesitant at first as the job was mainly office-based, and I asked for a couple of weeks to consider. I was away with friends when the company replied to say that they had reviewed the job and that 3-4 months a year could be spent in the Alps working remotely and taking responsibility for trainee ski instructors. It felt like all my Christmases had come at once! I handed in my notice and I finish teaching at the end of this term. The minute I handed the resignation letter to my headteacher, it felt like a weight had been lifted.  I was somehow so much lighter: much lighter than I had been in months, maybe years.

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Kaeti takes on the slopes!

When I was considering the job offer, my mum told me ‘the world is full of teachers who have given up teaching, and teaching is full of teachers who wish they have given up teaching.’ It’s taken cancer and career coaching for me to realise that it’s OK for your ambitions to change. It’s not failing to want to do something new and different. I am VERY excited about my new start and even more excited about spending next ski season in the Alps, thriving and recharging! Thank you so much to Emily and Shine for the gentle shove in the right direction.

Shine’s 2019 coaching after cancer programme is currently in progress – but follow us on social media for details of our 2020 programme!

My post-cancer PTSD time-bomb

In this guest blog post, Shine community member Jen shares her experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after breast cancer, and how these feelings affect her upcoming brain surgery for an unrelated condition.


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Meet Jen!

It seems that having cancer – and more specifically, months of treatment to be rid of that cancer – leaves you with a ticking PTSD time-bomb for future serious medical issues. No shit Sherlock, I hear you scream! I know – it seems obvious, doesn’t it? PTSD is just another one of the many, many things that nobody prepares you for when you walk through that hospital door after cancer treatment, merrily waving your goodbyes and looking forward to returning to your life. I had cancer at 36 and, touch wood, I am all clear so far. Given this diagnosis, it would seem pretty feasible that I might come up against another serious medical issue at some point. Why would nobody think to address the trauma of cancer? Mental health is yet another thing that sadly falls by the wayside for younger adults with cancer.

I’m sure that my experience of PTSD will resonate with others – and I hadn’t really dealt with, acknowledged, or understood the trauma until very recently. It makes perfect sense that what happens to us after cancer is going to be influenced by our experiences of diagnosis and treatment, just as all our other life experiences shape us and influence how we react and respond to future events.

I’ve learned that the actual ‘trauma’ of post-traumatic stress might be something that was not initially perceived as trauma. Trauma can be something that creeps up on you over time: it grows with you, in you and through you, slowly and steadily like a fungus. When you get diagnosed with cancer, there’s no time to deal with your feelings about it. Instead, you batten down the hatches and get on with getting through whatever you have to get through. There is a lot of information to take on board, but pretty much everything is out of your control. You are swept along on a rollercoaster ride from hell and when it ends, you are just thankful that you are still standing –  regardless of the state you are in, and the trauma that may have occurred along the way. You process your emotions in the months and years afterwards, and the trauma creeps up on you unexpectedly.

I have known for years that eventually I will need surgery on a slow-growing, benign brain tumour. It’s in a very awkward place. I have a condition called Schwannomatosis. It was diagnosed after cancer, so it seems that I am doubly special and unique! I have yearly scans and appointments with a specialist team of neurologists, and then I shelve it away for another twelve months and get on with living my best life. I’m pretty good at that! I genuinely don’t dwell on it. I had thought that this pattern would go on for many years to come so, other than the annual drama of getting a cannula into my chemo-destroyed veins (and a small amount of pain from time to time), I could almost live in happy denial. Unfortunately, in September 2018 this all changed: the little bugger had grown significantly in the past two years and if it continued, my eyesight would quickly become compromised. This means that I now need fairly complex and somewhat risky neurosurgery.

I am great at going to appointments and discussing all the details, from options to risks. But as I get closer to the operation, I’m not entirely sure how I am going to be able to let it happen to me! I know I have to, right? I know I do. It has to be done. It’s been planned and discussed, and I’ve been waiting for months. But the thought of having my body cut into again, damaged and broken, and drugs being pumped into my fragile veins? It just makes me feel nauseous, and that feeling triggers vivid memories!

It has been five years this month since my breast cancer surgery. Beforehand I had had four months of chemotherapy, and post-surgery I had five weeks of radiotherapy. My body has healed and my hair has regrown (sadly not my eyebrows, but I do have rather fabulous tattooed ones now!). I still ache though. I have radiotherapy damage in the bones and muscle on my chest wall, and I’m reminded of this when my kids hug me a little too tight. I have permanently painful toenails – first because they fell off during chemo, then from walking around the Isle of Wight (stupid me), and then from walking up Kilimanjaro (double stupid me!). I bruise easily, and my joints ache due to the drugs I take to keep the cancer from returning.

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Jen and her family

My youngest daughter has to hold my left hand rather than my right as she tends to tug and it hurts the back of my hand. My hand has never had a chance to recover from the onslaught of cannulas. I mention these things not as a sob story, but to explain that my instinct is to be very protective of myself.

I hate it when I hurt. I hate getting badly bruised if I clumsily walk into something. It makes me mad: disproportionally mad or disproportionally upset, depending on the situation. The thought of rocking up to a hospital voluntarily to check myself in for a lengthy, complex surgical procedure is obviously horrific – with or without the prior experience of cancer. Alongside these feelings comes an overwhelming, intrinsic, sense of self-preservation. I just don’t want my body to suffer anything more – it’s bounced back from so much, and I’m so thankful. This time it feels like I am choosing to do this to my body, and it will never forgive me!

Along with all these thoughts comes cancer guilt: the guilt that comes with survival when those with the same cancer and prognosis as you have gone. The guilt of remaining cancer free while friends get secondary diagnoses. The guilt of forgetting to be grateful every single day because there are people hoping for just one more day of life. The guilt of being stressed about one single surgery when there are people going through far worse in a desperate attempt to simply survive.

I have to have surgery. It sucks, but at least it isn’t cancer this time.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, we’d love to connect with you! If you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s and have had a cancer diagnosis, why not join our private Facebook group