Coaching and cancer: Karen’s story

Karen Myers is a blogger, baker, knitter, traveller, theatre-goer and escape room addict. She was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in July 2018 and has blogged about her experience at atozeeofbc.com. In this guest blog post, she writes about her experience of Shine’s coaching programme.


A cancer diagnosis tends to throw a spanner into the works of your life. The various cogs of your relationships, your career, your health, your lifestyle, your hobbies, and your free time are all whirring away quite happily until a doctor says ‘you’ve got cancer’. Then everything comes to a grinding halt. Through no choice of their own, many people with cancer have to put large parts of their life on hold as they go through treatment. But when that active treatment is over it can be hard work to get the engine of ‘normal’ life started again. The physical and psychological drain on your energy and enthusiasm can leave you feeling directionless. I certainly felt that way – my cancer diagnosis came after a difficult redundancy from a job I had loved, and when a year of treatment and surgery came to an end I had no clue what my next step in life should be. I felt totally lost.

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Blog post author Karen Myers

That’s when Shine’s coaching programme appeared on my radar. I took the leap of applying in the hope that it would give me some guidance, some direction and maybe a little oil to get my engines running again. I had no real understanding of coaching but I learned quickly that the Shine coaching programme is flexible and open. The programme can help you focus on whatever you need: whether that’s your career, your relationships, your work/life balance, your search for better health, or your financial or personal wellbeing. Maybe post-cancer you wants to find a new direction, personally or professionally, or maybe you want help to rebuild normality after cancer has crashed through your life. Under Shine’s coaching programme, the end goal is entirely down to you. And if you’re not even sure what that end goal might be, that’s OK too. 

Now in its fourth year, the Shine Coaching programme starts with a fun, informative workshop where those being coached can meet and start devising the goals that will become the focus of their coaching sessions. These goals can be specific and detailed (‘I want to become an astronaut’) or, as in my case, woolly and vague (‘help, I need to change my life’). The goals can shift and change throughout the process, but initially they’re used to match you to the most appropriate person in Shine’s stable of experienced, skilled (and quite frankly, lovely) coaches. The opening workshop is also a crash course in what coaching should be: non-judgemental, flexible, open, and safe, and focused on exploration rather than sticking to a rigid, expected path. 

After the workshop you receive three full coaching sessions via Skype. What happens in those sessions is entirely up to you. What I found most surprising (and initially terrifying) about coaching is the freedom you have to plough your own furrow. Your coach isn’t there to steer you down particular routes or give ‘you must do this’-style advice, but rather to act as a sounding board. An experienced, skilled coach, like those on the Shine programme, know that their role is to ask you the right questions so that you can guide yourself towards your goals. Sometimes those questions can be challenging, asking you to peel back some of the layers of your self-perception. But your answers are heard with compassion and understanding and, surprisingly, it can be refreshing to be confronted with your own fears and self-conceits in such a safe environment. However, coaching is not therapy or counselling. Although my sessions occasionally became emotional, the focus was always on a positive way forward, on ways to reach the future ‘me’ I was trying to find. 

My coaching sessions were focussed on what work after cancer would look like for me. Having been in the same industry for nearly 20 years, the shock of a cancer diagnosis had me in a panic. I wondered whether I needed to become someone entirely different now. I really felt the pressure of all those ‘I had cancer and I started my own multi-million pound business/ran 20 marathons/climbed all the mountains’ stories. My coach’s steady, guiding (never leading) hand made me realise that I’m not ready to make a big leap just yet. I need some stability and security after an earth-shattering trauma to my life. And my coach led me to realise that that is OK. Coaching doesn’t have to lead to major changes. It can help you reclaim and reframe normal, if that’s what you want. 

Even Shine’s stellar coaching programme might not give you the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything (that’s 42!), but it might just help you find the right questions to ask. 

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