On my 3rd year anniversary I reposted my “Cancerversary” blog post which detailed my path from discovery to diagnosis. Now I would like to bring you down the path from diagnosis to present day: a summary of these past 3 years and also to explain where I have been.
From the get-go it started with a bang! Whilst discovering I had breast cancer I happened to be scouted for a Burger King advert which was filmed one week before starting chemo. Two months after starting chemo, I launched my blog aheadwithstyle in February 2015 and it all kind of snowballed from there. In April 2015 I was invited to appear on Saturday Night Show in Ireland and four other Irish TV shows thereafter (Xpose twice, Ireland AM and Today Show). I was also invited to speak at Electric Picnic, at Charity Cancer Events, to lead a campaign in London and was interviewed by numerous radio stations and Irish/UK newspapers and magazines. Two weeks after my 7 hour double mastectomy operation, I shot my Mad Max photo shoot and attended the Blog Awards in Dublin as my blog had been nominated for Best New Blog. Being fluent in Italian, I later launched an Italian version of my blog (avanticonstile). Throughout all this madness, I also happened to meet and have chance encounters with Grace Jones, Jedward, Dara O Briain, Westlife’s Nicky Byrne, Hugh Jackman and Super Hans (you know, from Peep Show!).
Through my blog and social media posts, I have shared my positive spiritual cancer journey with you and the amazing things that have come with it. I haven’t shared, however, the storm that was happening behind the scenes – my dark journey with cancer discrimination and harassment at the workplace.
I continued to work while undergoing my cancer treatment, as I was fit and able. My manager, who was also the CEO, was of the view that I shouldn’t be there and she didn’t appreciate the inconvenience of me needing to take time off to attend hospital appointments. So she started harassing me and treating me unfairly for 7 weeks while I was undergoing chemo and right up until my major operation, creating an extremely hostile and humiliating environment for me at work and making my hospital appointments very stressful. Although I could understand God’s plan for me with cancer, I couldn’t make sense of my boss’ mistreatment of me on top of it. I realised I didn’t need to understand why but just trust in God’s plan for me. In my prayers I didn’t ask Him to make it stop but just for the strength to endure it.
While I was smiling and glowing during the Saturday Night Show and for newspaper interviews, delighted to share my spiritual journey to help others, at home I was in tears and drowning in stress dreading what the next day at work would bring. It’s ironic how throughout the darkness I suffered at work, cancer was my lantern of light. Cancer kept me distracted and focused on something positive. It let me feel like I had a voice and that I was being heard, when at work my voice counted for nothing and my cries for help fell on deaf ears. Cancer brought me joy as I was able to help others through my blog, but in the end, helping others was really helping me to survive and keep my head above water.
I complained about the mistreatment and went through the company’s grievance procedure which lasted 3 months however it left me with no other option but to resign from my position on 17th September 2015. Traumatised by how cruelly I was treated at the most vulnerable time in my life, I was fearful to work for someone again and to be put in such a vulnerable position once more. Without having a second income, my husband Gaetano and I had to leave expensive London and move back to my home in Ireland that October and live with my parents. At 32 years old, married and unable to work, it wasn’t an ideal situation for us nor where I imagined I would be at that stage in my life.
I had thought long and hard and prayed a lot about what I should do about the discrimination and harassment I was subjected to. I realised, if I have stood up for us Chemo Queens and my fellow Cancerians, shouldn’t I stand up for myself? How could I be a voice for others, if I then wouldn’t be my own voice? I knew the only way I could recover from the trauma and discrimination was to own it, face it head on, stand up, be heard and reclaim my voice. So I brought my former employer to the Employment Tribunal in London which took place in April 2016. It was a 9 day trial, of which I was on the witness stand for nearly 3 full days. The Lord was by my side throughout.
While I was distracted and completely immersed preparing for the trial, God had guided my husband and gave him an inspired idea and incredible drive for our future: for us to move to his home-town Mazzarino in Sicily and set up a private English Language school. Though it was resourceful and made sense being my own boss as a way of not having to work for anyone again, I was also very daunted by this new venture but God confirmed to me during prayer that this was the direction we were now to take.
Two weeks after the trial ended I flew to Sicily to set up the school during the summer. A week after we opened in September 2016, my trial judgement finally came through – I had won my Discrimination and Harassment case. As the trial was so complex, it had been separated into two. The first trial was only for Liability, so I then had to prepare for a second trial which would deal with just the remedy (compensation).
Although I had just launched a new business and it was only a year and half after finishing chemo, God guided me and told me I would become pregnant and have a boy. So ignoring my doctors’ advice to take hormone treatment and wait a minimum of 5 years, I listened to God and I became pregnant straight away in October 2016. This in itself was a miracle as there was a high likelihood I could have been infertile after chemo.
While working crazy hours and prepping my students for tough exams, I flew back to London for my second trial in April 2017. It was exactly a year after the first trial and lasted two days. I sat there 7 months pregnant being interrogated by their barrister again. As my students were about to sit their Cambridge exams at the end of May, the Remedy Judgement came through. I was relieved that this stressful legal chapter was finally closed and that I could now move on with my life.
I worked until mid-June and looked forward to much needed time off to unwind before baby’s due date on 16th July. On 7th July, friends messaged to say that my case was all over UK and Irish newspapers. It also reached news outlets in several countries. I couldn’t believe it. The Employment Tribunal put a summary of all Judgements on their website as justice is meant “to be seen to be done” and this is where journalists go to get the latest story. As the journalists didn’t have the full Judgement, the articles that were written about my case were quite vague, mentioned only a few points and some things weren’t reported properly and were presented incorrectly. I felt the hurt rise up as I read them but I took a deep breath knowing that this was just today’s news and it would soon pass.
I was approached by journalists to tell the whole story but I didn’t respond. I wasn’t ready to talk about it, and I still am not ready. It was so horrific that it’s still too raw right now and I need time to heal. I also wanted to concentrate on the arrival of my baby and surround the event with positivity. Besides, not even a 100 interviews could ever do it justice. Seven days later, my husband and I welcomed our beautiful baby boy, Salvatore, into the world on 14th July 2017 at 12.05am.
I wanted to share the storm behind the scenes to hopefully help someone who’s facing cancer discrimination for them to know they are not alone. Unfortunately, it’s more common than we would like to think. I also wanted to explain why I had stopped blogging, I owe it to you for all your incredible support. My former employer’s legal team tried to use all my blog posts and even my social media and Facebook page comments against me in their defence, but to no avail. As you can imagine, being scrutinised on such a level sucked out my creative energy and made it difficult for me to inspire and share my life when anything I wrote they would try and use against me. My voice has been stifled for over a year now but I’m ready to get back to blogging again and to be heard once more.
So here I am: on my 3rd Cancerversary, gone through cancer treatment, 3 operations, all the fun blog stuff, discrimination & harassment, moving country twice, preparing for two Employment Tribunal trials, working hard on our new business which we have now expanded, my students getting excellent results in their exams and welcoming a baby into the world. When I look back I don’t know how I did it. It’s all by the grace of God who gave me the strength I didn’t know existed. I have never accomplished as much in my life than I have after cancer. Cancer was not the end of my life but the beginning of it.
I have so much to be thankful for as cancer and my work ordeal pushed me off the wrong path and brought me on to the right one. From being stuck in the gloomy London rat-race and always broke to being my own boss in spectacular sunny Sicily with an adorable baby and surrounded by Gaetano’s fantastic family and friends.
I look at my life now and I truly feel God has rewarded me for never doubting Him nor letting go of His hand throughout the darkness. Through listening to Him and trusting where He was taking me, He was able to create and give me this new life. If I hadn’t trusted Him, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. God is the Captain of my Ship, and I have never felt safer. No matter what storm that comes my way, He’ll always be there in front of me, guiding me through.
My other blog posts mentioned above:
Saturday Night Show & Burger King Advert https://aheadwithstyle.com/2015/05/01/saturday-night-fever/
My Media & Press section https://aheadwithstyle.com/home/media/