When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, many emotions race through them. Once the shock wears off, patients start the painful process of arming themselves with knowledge, in order to get the best possible care. The first step is usually to talk to their doctor, but then people often start seeking out cancer survivors who can offer help, hope, and guidance.
Linda Davis knows this first-hand. The Cisco Executive Assistant was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She opted to undergo a double mastectomy, which meant she was able to avoid radiation and chemotherapy, but she went through a difficult recovery that included nine surgeries in 13 months. “It takes a lot out of you,” Davis said. “It’s as much mental as it is physical. For me, it was much more mentally taxing.”
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During that time, Davis worked for another company and was laid off after her last round of disability. Eight months later, she landed at Cisco and was blown away with the employee resources, including the Cancer Support Network. “When I joined, I thought, wow! What an amazing community of people who have battled themselves, or are caregivers, or loved ones of people who have gone through it,” Davis said.
Sue Stemel launched Cisco’s Cancer Support Network in 2008. Sadly, shortly after launching CSN she lost her battle to cancer, but her legacy remains in the network. It started with just a few core members, but has since grown to more than 800 members, proving global support to Cisco employees, family and friends.
Lynn Easterling, VP and Deputy General Counsel is the Executive Sponsor of the Cancer Support Network, and for her it’s personal. In 2014, Easterling moved from New York to the Raleigh, North Carolina area. Like anyone who moves, she had to find new doctors. When Easterling met with her new OB/GYN, she urged her to get a mammogram since she hadn’t had one in several years. “I have no history of cancer in my family, so I didn’t think it was as critical to get one immediately, so I procrastinated for a few months,” Easterling recalled.
Once she got the mammogram, the radiologist told her shewanted to do a biopsy because of some concerning indicators. Ultimately, she received the diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer. “I was in shock,” Easterling said. Once the diagnosis sunk in, she emailed her boss, Mark Chandler. “He sent me a short but deeply encouraging email back in which he quoted the motto of a famous Boston hospital, ‘MAN TENDS; GOD MENDS.’ I later talked to him and he said let me help you.” That help included him calling John Chambers, who knew some of the top doctors and cancer researchers at Duke University.
Easterling was put in touch with Dr. Kim Blackwell, a leading pioneer in breast cancer research. What she said, reassured her. “She told me we’re going to take good care of you,” Easterling said. She underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction on August 19, 2014, and more than five years later is now cancer free. “I was treated with tenderness, respect, and love in such a personal way,” Easterling said. She’s not just referring to her medical care, but also how Cisco cared for her.
She didn’t utilize Cisco’s Cancer Support Network while she was going through her treatment and after-care, but she became the executive sponsor because she wanted to ensure other employees could get all the help they needed. “We don’t offer medical advice, but it’s a really incredible network. People are going through a lot, whether they’re a patient or caregiver. “This is a place for people can share their burdens and receive support from their colleagues around the world, even ones they’ve never met.”
Linda Davis couldn’t agree more. “Until you get diagnosed with any type of cancer, you don’t know how difficult it is to navigate the system,” Davis said. “There are so many ways of giving back and this is what I want to do because I’ll never forget what people did for me.”