Learnings From My Cancer Journey

I think we’d all agree that the year 2020 was pretty tough. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc around the world, I don’t think anyone was left untouched. For some it was devastating, resulting in loss of life. I’m truly heartbroken for those impacted in that way. For me, it was mainly a professional impact, with my speaking and training business taking a big hit and then requiring a tremendous focus on converting to a primarily virtual model. 

The double whammy for me came in June when I was diagnosed with cancer, with chemo and radiation treatments from September to November. While I’m happy to say that I’m fine now, it definitely kicked my butt at the time. Like I said, 2020 was a tough year. 

I always try to learn from whatever situation I face. When I reflect back on my cancer journey, I’ve been able to make several connections between my journey and the customer service concepts I teach in my professional life. I believe these observations/learnings can apply to any industry and any organization, so here goes. 

Communication – Overall I’d say that the communication between the various healthcare teams treating me was very good, as was their communication with me. When, for example, I was checked into the hospital for a surgical procedure, it was a seamless experience with everyone knowing what everyone else was doing or had done. The quality of communication in this case certainly built my trust in the expertise of everyone involved. 

There were, however, a few communications breakdowns along the journey. Difficulties in reaching a particular provider for information, an extremely poor bedside manner from a key player on the team, periodic confusion over who was doing what and when. While these situations were exceptions, they were frustrating and eroded trust. They made me wonder about the quality of care I was receiving at that moment. 

Lesson learned: Communication quality and trust are inextricably linked

Presence – I mentioned the poor bedside manner of a key player on the oncology team (we requested and received another oncologist). But overall, the care and compassion demonstrated by the doctors, nurses, and other clinicians was excellent. I almost always felt that they weren’t rushed and had time to answer any questions my wife and I had and to respond to any concerns we expressed. I felt they truly cared because they were in-the-moment for my wife and me; they were present. 

When I reflect on the few exceptions to this feeling of care, I can confidently say that it was because a particular healthcare professional was simply going through the motions – processing me rather than treating me. In other words, they weren’t present. At those times I didn’t feel valued, I felt tolerated. And that’s not a confidence-building feeling.

Lesson learned: Presence and a sense of care are inextricably linked

Expectations – I was shocked by how many moving parts there are to cancer treatment. As a patient, you’re bombarded with information, all of which is important. Fortunately for me, my wife Debbie is highly organized and put together a binder with the ever-expanding volume of information. I don’t know how I would have made it without her help. 

Because of the potential for confusion, it was vital for the treatment team to manage our expectations regarding what was coming. For example, what side effects to expect from chemo and radiation treatments, when to expect those side effects, and what could be done to manage them. I certainly appreciated knowing what was going to happen before it happened! 

Inevitably, there were some missed opportunities for effectively managing our expectations. The one that frustrated us the most was waiting all day (and most of the night) for a surgical procedure. No one could tell us when it was going to happen, or they’d say, “In about an hour.” The surgery finally took place around 4am (!?!), after hours and hours of waiting, not knowing what was going on. It takes a lot to really get me upset, and this was one of those times. 

Lesson learned: Managing expectations and customer satisfaction are inextricably linked

I’m so thankful for my treatment team. As I’ve said, overall they made the best of what was a scary, emotional experience and they saved my life (for which I’ll be eternally grateful). The problems were few and far between. But as I think about the good and the rare negatives, I realize that the lessons learned from my experience can apply anywhere. They make up the basic blocking and tackling of good customer service:

  • Because communication quality and trust are inextricably linked, err on the side of OVER communicating than UNDER communicating. Don’t assume your customers know what you know.

  • Because presence and a sense of care are inextricably linked, be in-the-moment (present) for those you serve. Let them know for at least that moment, they have your full attention.

  • Because managing expectations and customer satisfaction are inextricably linked, use your expertise for informing customers of what to expect. Don’t think that customers will fill in the blanks – do it for them. You’ll be a hero.

Something to think about: What learnings have come from some of your recent experiences, and how can you apply those learnings to your organization?