I was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks after learning about my pregnancy. That journey – one of extremes – would edit the trajectory of my future. Not just my life as a mom and wife, but also my career; and ultimately, my life’s mission. This is #MyLinkedInStory.
Finding an oncologist willing to treat me while pregnant was the first hurdle. Months of chemotherapy, surgeries and just daily life as a bald woman in the winter was a tricky thing. Navigating the tumultuous waters of working full time, reams of insurance paperwork and the sheer magnitude of the fear that found its way into my daily existence caused inconceivable stress. HOWEVER: I prayed (and continue to pray) that there might just be a bigger purpose to my life and that of my child.
My doctor told me after my treatments, after the birth of my son (he’s safe, strong and healthy) that most patients fall into one of two categories. They either want to resume their lives quietly and stay in the shadows, or they see this journey as fuel to a previously unknown fire. He told me I fall into the latter group, and that I should absolutely tell my story – often, and loudly. Thus began my speaking career…right there, with a glamorous paper gown, missing several body parts and hairless. Yes, I was ready for that spotlight.
Years later, I found myself crossing the country to do keynotes and inspirational talks to corporations, medical conventions and churches nationwide. One flight found me sitting next to a man who shared with me an incredible concern. He, a pharma exec, had just learned that a fellow employee had a son with a difficult diagnosis. This employee’s wife and son had to travel to Texas from Indiana regularly for treatment. Many people wanted to help, but didn’t know how – and all were concerned about violating HR rules and regulations.
Since I’ve spent years working with companies to find their philanthropic voice, he asked for my ideas. Then he told me this incredible piece of pivotal wisdom: Get on LinkedIn. Stay on LinkedIn. Use it daily. He told me that he’d connect with other execs from his company to brainstorm this dilemma, and he would use it to promulgate my ideas with peers across the globe. He did, and we did. I pointed out that as the employee with the sick son worked in the warehouse, the cost of flying his family down to Texas on a regular basis might be cost prohibitive. Airline miles to share? Hotel points? Sales reps in TX, could participate by making sure mom had gift baskets with toys, movies, gift cards, etc. Dad was taking on extra shifts to cover costs. Might someone mow his lawn, leave meals, shovel his drive? After a year of this interaction, I received another message. At the company picnic, something extraordinary had happened. Each department had connected to embrace this family. It cost the company nothing, and no rules were broken. This voluntary participation changed the very fabric of morale – nationwide. Finally, we crafted a new position - ‘Compassion Ombudsman’…continuing the work that started on that plane ride.
I’ve taken that advice about using LinkedIn daily to heart, and I love it. As the Executive Director of the Pink Power Mom Network (a group of young moms/breast cancer patients/advocates/superheros), Speaker, Author and Advocate, this medium is an invaluable tool. Manufacturers now connect regularly to gift products to ‘PPMs ‘ for their work. LinkedIn gives us advice from sage business leaders, truly compassionate philanthropists, gifted artists and global visionaries – all at no cost. This has become a lifeline. We seek professionals for medical, financial, emotional and myriad other needs. LinkedIn is our go-to for connections, all referred by our own community. We recommend doctors, encourage corporations to care without pinkwashing, nominate friends for awards, share details about clinical trials, offer tips for patients, and spread the word about companies that have questionable practices regarding breast cancer advocacy.
Health care is on the precipice of being re-written by social media – and LinkedIn is helping that change. I encourage community building here for one simple reason; we have lives to save. Looking to build community in your health-care or philanthropic setting? Here are a few tips…
- “People You May Know” is there for a reason – use it! You’ve been connected by a handful of people, why not see if there is mutual interest in starting a conversation. You are reading this post because I connected with a LinkedIn recommend, and wonderful conversations happened. All the way up the LinkedIn world, to an executive meeting!
- Use it as your personal CRM database. You can quickly sort by geographic location, company and even title. Seeing a recent promotion/transfer can be a great reason to touch base. Recently, a friend of mine moved cross-country for a promotion. Knowing that he and his wife wanted to get involved in their new community, I suggested they connect with an incredible charity for moms and kids (my little waiting room). It gave them immediate outreach to a compassionate group of people in their new city!
- Reach Out. There are people you just met at a convention, a symposium, a charity event. Connect immediately & message. You aren’t limited by number of characters, and you won’t have to remember if you gave them personal or company email address. The Pharma exec I mentioned was so encouraging. His suggestion to utilize LinkedIn as a tool for compassion changed my entire perspective and, of course, the lives of many employees from that point forward!
- Read, Read, Read. Information from incredible influencers is waiting – I pour over everything I can find from sources as varied as Google and Salesforce to Nike and Betsey Johnson (all are on my philanthropic heros list…). I read ideas about marketing (even though I’m not in marketing), latest trends in technology (not in tech), and anything that focuses on clinical trials (only a patient/advocate) – and consider each to be a call to action. Publications in every sphere have the potential to be creatively used to help!
- Fear Not. Be bold and reach out to that CEO. She may not accept, but she just might. Have your eloquent and sincere reason for connecting ready. Tell her why you admire her company, her work, her passion. Be respectful if those amazing interactions occur, and be prepared if asked for more. The more manufacturers, business owners and corporations I connect with, the more families I am able to help. If you aren’t soliciting for a job or asking for money, I’ve found that most people are eager to correspond and assist!
My cancer walk is ongoing; but so is my fierce belief that opportunity can rise from trials. And that we, connected as global community, can change this world for good.
(Heidi and all 4 of her healthy, sweet kiddos)