“There were many times I wanted to freak out. In my experience, it’s best to be calm, informed and determined, No one wants to help an obnoxious bully, but if you say nothing and go with the flow you will get lost in the crowd.”
Tamara is not only an award-winning anchor of the weekday CTV News at 6 in Vancouver, she’s also a cancer survivor. She learned the hard way that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything—especially a career.
By Tamara Taggart
On January 3, 2012, I passed out at work. It was a big day: my first anniversary of anchoring CTV News at 6 with Mike Killeen. I had an obscene headache, but I was determined to go on-air for this milestone. I never made it to the anchor desk. Instead, I ended up in emergency, receiving transfusions and tests to determine why I was losing so much blood.
Emergency surgery removed a 10cm gastrointestinal stromal tumour from my small intestine. GIST is a rare cancer affecting about 15 people in a million, most of them seniors. It was the scariest time of my life. Everything had changed in a heartbeat.
In hindsight, every sign that I was sick was right there. But when I complained, I was told not to worry. I was young, and there was no family history of disease. Let it go, they said. They were wrong, and deep down I knew it. My silence and the reflex to always trust the experts almost killed me.
When I came out of surgery I knew I’d been given a second chance, and I vowed to change the way I looked at my role as a patient. I became an expert on GIST, as well as the chemo drug I was prescribed. All the information I gathered helped me to advocate for myself, and to demand more from my health care. This was my life we were talking about, the life of a daughter, a wife, and the mother of three young children.
I’ve learned a lot about advocacy through my experience. Not only is it vital for anyone going through an issue with their health, it is also invaluable in other areas of your life, including your career. As a professional woman, my advice is this:
Ask for your results
From day one, I told my oncologist that I wanted a copy of every CT Scan report—it’s my body, and I was entitled to every test result surrounding it (in fact, they can’t say no). In a professional setting you are just as entitled to feedback, and you may need to be proactive in asking for it. Know where you stand, and you can be empowered to fix your own issues.
There were many times I wanted to freak out. In my experience, it’s best to be calm, informed and determined. No one wants to help an obnoxious bully, but if you say nothing and go with the flow you will get lost in the crowd. Whether talking to a doctor, a colleague, or your boss, when it comes to advocacy, be tenacious and respectful.
I went to every doctor’s appointment with questions written down, and a pen and paper ready to record the answers. If you want to take charge of an aspect of your life, you need to start by being informed. Understand the big picture, and you’ll be in a stronger position to advocate for what is best for you.
Ask for help
When dealing with a difficult disease, it can be hard to be your own advocate—and that’s okay. On the career side, having a champion to assist in advocating on your behalf is often a key component to advancement. Whether it is professionally or personally, understand it is always possible to ask for help.
Ask for a new doctor
My second oncologist was the kind of doctor who puts people in boxes and follows protocols that are based more on a patient type than the unique person sitting in front of her. That kind of care wasn’t good enough for me, and eventually I fired her. This advice naturally follows to other areas of your life: ultimately, you get to decide who is on your team. Perhaps you can’t fire everyone, but you can do the work needed to repair relationships, or end the ones that aren’t working. Your happiness and your health are most important.
Today, I’m healthy, happy and in control. I hope my story will inspire others to take a more active role—in their healthcare or their career—and become their own champion.
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