Through the keyhole…



Through the keyhole…

As you read this, it’s highly likely that you have gone through or will go through this exact same experience either yourself or with someone you love. Male, female, young, old – cancer doesn’t discriminate. My lovely mum has lung cancer, recently diagnosed and about to undergo major surgery to remove a third of her lung through keyhole surgery. How does that work?

That’s just one of the many questions, thoughts, concerns that we’ve had in the last few weeks. Imagine my Mum, the strongest woman I know, who has already battled and beaten cancer once. Imagine how it feels to be told you’ve got to go through it again, to share this with your loved ones, to say it out loud, for a new reality to exist where you are once again vulnerable and scared, to be faced with the ‘c’ word and all the uncertainty that comes with it. I say it again, my mum is the strongest person I know.

Last week, I attended a Patient Education Programme with my mum and dad at the Leeds NHS Teaching Hospital in preparation for mum’s operation. On walking into the Bexley Wing, I had to pinch myself to realize that in fact I wasn’t in the lobby of a contemporary hotel as my eyes took in the polished white décor, bright coloured chandeliers, art displays and grand piano. As I took it all in, I noticed that the people sat around in this haven of calm and tranquility were all obviously in various stages of cancer treatment and recovery. WOW was my first thought, what an amazing environment to recover in, to feel normal in, to feel like a human-being and not just a patient. I felt optimistic about our appointment and seeing my mum smiling and enjoying the art work as we walked through boded well!

We spent the next two hours sat with three other patients, a very caring Lung Specialist nurse and a physio talking through the before, during and after of the operation. Seriously I was blown away. They talked about how mum could best prepare herself physically and mentally before the op, showing us a suggested exercise regime and giving permission to do it (mum had been worried about doing further damage). We then went through the admission day and exactly what would happen, the layout of the ward, they even had pictures of the actual doctors and nurses who mum could expect to see when she was there. Then on to the operation itself all in detail with diagrams and pictures so each person had the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns and really understand the lay of the land.

I say it again, I was blown away. When you are faced with the shocking and devastating news that you have cancer, how can you be expected to take in all the details? I haven’t been there but I can only imagine that the world slows down and the edges get a bit blurry so for this session to happen a couple of weeks on, at a time when the initial shock has passed and you have had some time to move to a place where you are ready to fight and ready to contemplate what’s next, it was just brilliant to have the opportunity to be with the real people who would be holding your hand on the next part of the journey.

The outcome for all of us that day was that we all left feeling mum was in safe hands, we felt more in control of what we could do, I felt better able to support mum and dad and I came away really understanding what would happen next. For mum, all the questions that had been whirring around in her head, causing her sleepless nights, she had the chance to say them out loud and I genuinely think it alleviated so much of the stress that comes from not knowing what’s happening.

It got me thinking about how we communicate in the workplace. We assume that people are receiving the messages that are sent out…we create communication strategies with leaflets, brochures, intranet sites, posters, emails, collaboration sites, websites, blogs, etc etc. We can track and monitor who clicks on them, who opens them to justify that its working but for me nothing beats that human to human interaction. That moment when you can look in someones eyes and have a meaningful conversation. When that conversation starts with positive intent on both sides to create an environment where everyone in it would like to get something good out of it. Where information is shared, questions can be asked, concerns can be raised and solutions found. I think we forget sometimes that email is great, but picking up the phone and speaking to someone is so much better. Making the effort to walk over to someone’s desk and say thank you, ask if you can help, have a giggle, find out what they did at the weekend builds trust and strengthens relationships.

We live in a crazy, crazy world with so much change and upheaval. We can only control so much. But let’s remember that the one thing we can control is the impact that each of us can have on the people around us. We can choose to enter into every conversation with a positive intent, we can care about the people in our lives, we can give people a voice to raise their concerns, ask their questions and feel part of something bigger. We can respect people, be honest with them and see things from their point of view. We can treat people as grown-ups and trust them with information. We can help create an environment where people can be themselves. We can help reduce the stress of not knowing by creating transparency in our organisations. We can create cultures where we focus on what people are doing right.

As you can tell, this experience has had a huge impact on me and we feel confident about the future. This is happening in the NHS today and I am grateful for it. Let’s apply some of these exact same principles as we go about our daily lives!