Executive & Leadership Development

 

Executive and Leadership Coaching

Coaching and support for individuals to maximize opportunities and remove obstacles.

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Team Emotional Intelligence Coaching

Team coaching to cultivate constructive interactions, collaborative work processes, and team effectiveness.

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Burnout
Prevention

While research has significantly focused on burnout in the workplace, people can experience burnout in any aspect of their life.

 

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Coaching for “Chemo Brain”

Supporting individuals and groups to craft new possibilities in the aftermath of illness or injury that impacts professional identity.


 
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Executive leadership and coaching

We work with leaders at all levels to fulfill their greatness in their professional and personal lives through individual, team, and group coaching. 

Your success is our goal 

Our only goal is to help you achieve your goals, whatever those may be.  We work with you to co-create a common understanding of your style, strengths, goals, challenges and opportunities. 

We focus on the whole person  

We help you to define the best version of yourself, identify areas that will maximize your fulfillment professionally and personally, and create a tailored pathway to achieve professional success, personal growth and health and well-being.   You are in the driver’s seat – Deb is your "co-pilot" to support you in identifying your destination, mapping-out a course to get there and making the journey.  The decisions and actions are yours.   

We leverage key skills and behaviors  

Whether it's for you as an individual or for your team, Deb guides you in developing the skills, agility and presence needed to lead, interact, and live with confidence: 

  • Emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, empathy, relationship-building, emotional agility) 

  • Conversational Intelligence® 

  • Prioritizing, delegating, and saying "no"  

  • Dealing with conflict, difficult situations, and challenging people 

  • Inspiring, influencing, and motivating others 

  • Recognizing and acknowledging strengths and successes in yourself and others 

  • Navigating change 

We create a highly customized process   

There is no "one-size fits-all approach. We structure our process and engagement to support your needs: 

  • We offer flexible individual coaching programs of 3, 6, or 12 months, team coaching and group programs based on the complexity of your goals

  • We offer "maintenance" coaching packages for continuing clients

  • Engagements may be contracted by the individual or sponsored by an organization

  • Conversations are held in person, by phone, or by video conference based upon client preference

  • Assessments, books, and other tools are suggested to meet your unique needs

 

 
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Team Emotional Intelligence coaching

Using the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey®, we help your team understand and craft strategies to improve interpersonal dynamics, leading to constructive interactions, collaborative work processes, and enhanced team effectiveness. 

Research shows that teams are more creative and productive when they can achieve high levels of participation, cooperation, and collaboration among members. Such results require mutual trust among members, a sense of group identity -  a feeling among members that they belong to a unique and worthwhile group, and a sense of group efficacy - the belief that the team can perform well and that group members are more effective working together than apart. Backed by 15 years of research, the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey® measures how effectively your team's culture manages emotion.  

The Team Emotional Intelligence Coaching can help your team achieve powerful results: 

  • Engagement and cooperation 

  • Productive conflict 

  • Follow-through on commitments 

  • High levels of creativity and innovation 

  • Maximized activity and energy 

  • Resilience and adaptability to change 

  • Higher quality and performance 

 

 
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Burnout prevention and recovery - individuals & groups

Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions with more than 50% of workers describing themselves as feeling burnt out and as much as 95% of corporate leaders indicating that employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention.  While research has significantly focused on burnout in the workplace, people can experience burnout in any aspect of their life.    

There are six key components of that contribute to burnout: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. Whether or not you experience burnout is related to the extent to which you feel that you have input into and a sense of control over what you do and how you do it; you have sufficient support and resources to do what is expected of you; there is alignment between your own values and those of the organization/social context; you receive appreciation, recognition, and reward, and/or feel secure in your role;  your workload is manageable, not only in terms of the amount of work, but also in terms of the complexity and urgency that is expected; you or others are treated fairly and with transparency; there is a sense of community and collegiality, and that conflict and emotions are handled constructively; and you receive positive feedback. 

Potential for burnout emerges when one or more of these six areas is chronically mismatched between an individual's expectations (which can often be self-imposed) and capabilities and his or her career and/or home situation.  Over time, engagement and performance erode not only because people have too much to do, but because the demands being placed on them exceed the physical and emotional resources they have available to deal with the stressors.   

We will help you to avoid or recover from burnout by helping you develop those resources.  You will:  

  • Get clear on your values and passions

  • Learn to practice self care and renewal

  • Reduce the time and energy you spend worrying

  • Identify areas of mis-match that lead to burnout

  • Identify where you want to make changes

  • Create and execute a plan to thrive

 
 

Speaking engagements

As a coach, I have the great privilege to do what I love – helping others to be the best version of themselves and to achieve their goals. My mission is to inspire the world by helping individuals, groups, and teams to maximize their greatness in their professional and personal lives. Thus, in addition to individual coaching, I offer keynote talks in areas about which I am particularly passionate.  I bring an engaging, authentic, and personal perspective to my speaking, and structure the presentations to be interactive and "coaching-like" to achieve the maximum impact for participants.   

My current offerings center on these topics: 

  • Coach Yourself to Avoid Burnout 

  • Coach Yourself to Energize Your Career 

  • Coach Yourself to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence 

  • Don’t Just Stand There – LEAD!  How anyone can, and why everyone should, embrace leadership 

  • Coach Yourself Through Chemo-Brain  

 

If you are interested in scheduling me as a keynote speaker for your next meeting or event, please complete the following information. 

 

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Coaching for Chemo Brain and Other Conditions

For those whose professional identity has been impacted by illness or injury, we provide validation and support to help you understand and incorporate the meaning of your condition and develop behaviors to manage your health and performance:

  • Gaining understanding and acceptance of your condition

  • Developing measures to cope with and adapt to symptoms

  • Affirming your value as a person and employee

  • Reprioritizing career and personal goals

  • Adjusting the way you present yourself, communicate about your symptoms and ask for accommodation

  • Re-defining your purpose, meaning, and fulfillment

 

 
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What is Chemo Brain?

Chemo-brain (also known as chemo-fog) can be a challenging side effect for patients recovering from cancer treatment. Chemo-brain is characterized by a variety of changes in brain functions known as “executive functions”, including:

  • Impaired short-term memory,

  • Inability to multi-task, organize and plan,

  • Diminished motivation,

  • Challenges in initiating and following-through on tasks,

  • Impaired concentration,

  • Difficulty learning or retaining new tasks and skill sets,

  • Reduced processing speed and foggy thinking, and

  • Struggles with word-finding and articulation

Chemo-brain is also associated with sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. While for some people, the changes are subtle and not significantly life-altering, for those whose symptoms are severe or those who rely heavily on executive functioning in their profession or at home, the symptoms can be devastating and debilitative (See below for More on Chemo-brain). People who are severely affected are no longer able to function in their professional and personal lives. Many are unable to work in their prior profession and must find a new career. Others are forced into disability or retirement, or are laid off.  For some, lack of acknowledgement from friends, family and the medical community negatively impacts their relationships and leads to social stigma and isolation. Many cancer patients who experience chemo-brain report that the impairment significantly changed who they were, emotionally and mentally.  Sufferers experience frustration, low self-esteem, and feelings of helplessness, resignation, dependence, and worthlessness. They are no longer able to recognize themselves and no longer identify with the person they were prior to treatment. For some, the loss of self, credibility, respect of others, self-esteem and employment leads to an identity crisis.  I know this because I have chemo-brain and all of this happened to me.

My husband and I were on a dream trip in the Galapagos Islands when I found a lump in my breast. Fortunately, my tumor was small, caught early, and had not metastasized.  It was removed by a lumpectomy with an excellent result. I had what is known as a ++- tumor, which is the “best” kind of breast cancer to have because the chances of a recurrence can be significantly reduced by a regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and hormone-inhibiting medications.  My doctors told me that with this combination of treatment, the chances of my cancer recurring would be the same as my chances of having developed breast cancer in the first place (1 in 8).  By all accounts, I was lucky. 

And I felt lucky.  I didn’t see cancer as something that could take my life – mostly I saw it as a major inconvenience to my life.  As was my typical m.o., I powered through the chemo side effects, and went about my life as normally as possible.  I grocery shopped, cooked meals, walked the dog, and did laundry.  I worked in my job as a healthcare executive throughout my treatment, which necessitated long hours and a 5-hour per day commute.  I interviewed for and was offered a position as a Regional Vice President for a national healthcare company. Aside from a bad cold that sent me to the emergency room mid-way through my treatment, I juggled home and work responsibilities pretty much seamlessly.  I didn’t see my bout with cancer as life-altering – just another blip on my radar screen of life challenges that I had to get past.

When I finished my 6 months of treatment, I was over the moon.  My hair was growing back and my taste buds were returning to normal.  I could enjoy a glass of wine again! My energy and enthusiasm were back.  I started my new job and was loving the challenge and excitement of being in a new company and in the position I had been working so hard to reach. 

All of that changed about five months later when chemo-brain hit.  My new job required a fair amount of out-of-state driving, conference calls, learning large amounts of detailed information passed along orally, and calculating key metrics in real-time.  It also required a lot of relationship development, selling and presenting to our physician and hospital investors. I began to have trouble retaining information conveyed on calls, remembering key market information, keeping people’s names straight, taking notes at meetings and finding words. I would have to re-read even short emails several times because I would zone out midway through and realize that I didn’t remember anything I had read.  These were tasks and skills that I once performed with little effort.  At home, I could no longer multi-task my way through cooking dinner, doing laundry, and paying bills like I once could. I’d record a check in the register but fail to send the payment.  I no longer had the ability to be the seemingly 8-armed octopus I once was who could multitask, retain and recall huge amounts of information, and interact, speak, and present with ease.  I, the Type A personality who had prided myself on my organizational skills, efficiency, and ability to get more done by noon than most people accomplished all day, was scattered and sluggish.  It was taking much more than my usual efforts to keep on top of everything and I didn’t feel that the quality of my work was up to my usual perfectionist standards.  

The mental and physical energy required to try to keep up with my work and home responsibilities left me so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to exercise.  My itinerant work schedule and overnight travel meant a lot of fast food.  I gained weight.  My hair was growing in, but a different color and very curly.  I didn’t look or feel like myself. 

While my boss, colleagues, and family didn’t really notice my mental lapses, I noticed!  When I would get tongue-tied trying to retrieve a word, miss an exit on the freeway, forget to join a conference call, arrive late for a meeting, misstate a fact, or draw a blank on what I was saying mid-sentence, it would feel like my knees had been taken out from under me.  The harder I tried to overcome my challenges, the more frustrated, discouraged and inept I felt.  My prior confidence and self-assurance eroded.  I was anxious, depressed and exhausted.  In short, I no longer recognized myself.  I didn’t look or feel like the person I was before.  When I would tell my family, friends and health care team about my challenges, they tried to be supportive by saying things like “you’re fine”, “now you’re just like the rest of us”, and my personal favorite, “at least you’re not dead”.  While all of these statements may have been true, the lack of empathy and support made me feel isolated and distraught.  I knew I should be grateful to be alive, but I felt like I was struggling to live. 

Thankfully, once again, I was lucky. My company provided executive coaches for its leaders.  I had the pleasure of working with an amazing coach, Erin Rocchio.  Initially in my work with Erin, true to my nature, I tried to get very tactical – working on being more organized, more deliberate in setting priorities, and more stringent in managing my schedule – thinking this would help me to overcome my chemo-brain and achieve the level of productivity and success I had attained in my career prior to cancer.  However, over the course of a few months, Erin helped me to discover that I was working to adapt to a job, and a whole lifestyle in fact, that no longer fit.  This sense of mismatch wasn’t just that the job required skills and an energy level that were zapped by chemo-brain, it was that my prior profession and mode of being in the world no longer served who I am.  I had spent the past 25 years working really hard and putting off until “someday” many of the things I had always wanted to do – volunteer with a non-profit organization, learn to speak Spanish, read the hundreds of books accumulated on my bookshelves, develop a regular practice of yoga and meditation, reconnect with high school friends on social media, cultivate my relationship with my stepdaughter, hike Mount Washington to name just a few.  My busy work schedule and long commute had always gotten in the way.  I realized I wanted to get off the hamster wheel. 

Over the next few months, Erin helped me to get clear on what I value, how I conduct myself, and what it takes for me to be at my best.  She helped me to take stock of my life experiences, accomplishments, and capabilities and to recognize the important contributions I could make even with chemo-brain.  Most importantly, she helped me to challenge my limiting beliefs – the assumptions and stories I had that made me feel limited in my choices, stuck and without options. As a skilled coach, Erin did all this not by giving me advice or direction, but by asking me questions that helped me examine who I was, what I wanted, and what I took for granted. I felt heard, validated, and supported.  My sense of confidence and self-efficacy returned. It was amazing how much coming to my own conclusions and saying things out loud made them more real and shifted my energy from unproductive to productive pursuits.  I gained a feeling of control over my life that I hadn’t felt in many, many years.  I felt like I was in the driver’s seat of my career and my life for the first time! 

The experience of working with a coach led me to discover a calling to become an Executive and Leadership coach. This new career allows me to use my talents and life experience to serve and support others in pursuing their own goals and purpose.  It also affords me sufficient flexibility and time to devote to my family, health, hobbies, and ongoing personal and professional learning and development.  It has set me on the path towards realizing two goals that have been my dream since I was a teenager – to own my own small business (Debra Doroni Leadership Partners, LLC) and to write a book.  Never could I have imagined that chemo-brain and coaching could have led to such profound and exciting changes in my life! (See below for Coaching for Chemo-brain)

Some cancer patients report that their chemo-brain symptoms are so disruptive to their lives that, had they been aware of the potential severity of its effects, they would have skipped chemo-therapy, and taken the chance of trading longevity for retaining their prior level of executive function.  Honestly, I’m not sure that I would have been that brave.  Most likely, my “bring it” attitude probably would have prevailed.  Besides, having chemo-brain led me to the opportunity to work with my Executive Coach, Erin.  Coaching led me to embrace my dreams and reinvent my life.  Now I get to spend the second half of my life doing more of what I love, personally and professionally. I know I wouldn’t have had the courage to make that leap without the support and encouragement of a coach!  If it had to take chemo-brain to get me there, it was worth it!

Debra Doroni is a certified executive and leadership coach. This article is for information purposes only and should not be seen as substitute for medical or therapeutic evaluation and advice.

 
 

More on Chemo-brain

There are more than 14 million cancer survivors in the US with an additional one million diagnosed each year.  More than half of cancer patients receive chemotherapy, and of those, 20 to 80% will develop “chemo-brain” (also known as chemo-fog). The condition is characterized by a variety of cognitive deficits, including mental fogginess, impaired short-term memory, inability to multi-task, organize and plan, diminished motivation, challenges in initiating and following-through on tasks, impaired concentration, difficulty learning or retaining new tasks and skill sets, reduced processing speed, and struggles with word-finding and articulation – skills generally known as executive functioning, as well as, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety.  Fortunately, the majority of individuals affected will experience improvement in their symptoms over time.  But for up to 25% of those experiencing chemo-brain, symptoms may last for months, years or indefinitely.  For those whose symptoms are severe or who rely on executive functioning professionally or at home, chemo-brain can be devastating and debilitative.

The cause of chemo-brain is not well understood. The medical and scientific community have proposed a number of theories to explain the phenomenon, including patient anxiety and depression regarding a cancer diagnosis, fatigue, effects of surgery and anesthesia, anemia, medications used during and after cancer treatment, poor sleep, and genetic disposition. There is even evidence that patients were experiencing cognitive abnormalities prior to cancer, suggesting that the cancer itself contributed to cognitive challenges. The fact that the condition can occur across many types of cancers and types of chemotherapy regimens suggests at least some direct effect of the chemotherapy agents themselves.  While scientists have hypothesized several possibilities for what physical damage may be occurring, very little research has been conducted to explore those theories.

There is no definitive diagnosis for chemo-brain.  Patients report widely divergent symptoms, ranging from mild to debilitating.  As a result, studying the phenomenon has been problematic. Even though patients have been reporting cognitive challenges post-cancer treatment since the 1970s, emphasis of research has been on improving survivorship.  It has only been in the last decade that systematic research has been conducted into the phenomenon of chemo-brain. The majority of these studies have been conducted among breast cancer and lymphoma patients as these cancers have excellent treatment outcomes, resulting in large numbers of survivors.  Several studies have found that chemotherapy-treated patients perform worse on neurocognitive tests than non-exposed control subjects. Prospective studies that include pre-treatment baseline testing and closely matched controls, reveal subtle cognitive declines after chemotherapy exposure.  Further, imaging studies have confirmed diminished brain activity in the regions of the brain that control executive function in patients suffering from chemo-brain.   However, the research is alarmingly scarce and methodologies highly variable, leading to relatively limited progress in understanding the effects of cancer treatments on cognition.

There is at present no way to predict who will and who will not develop these symptoms, and for whom they will improve or persist.  Differences in patient perceptions, reporting, professions and use of executive functions, or factors present in an individual’s brain pre-treatment (e.g. cytokines, proteins) are a few of the theories under exploration.  Some studies point to differences in pre-treatment cognitive reserve - the brain’s ability to use existing and alternative neural networks in the presence of damage or disease-related insults.  Since the symptoms of chemo-brain mimic those of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, they can create significant anxiety and fear.  However, in contrast to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia which are progressive, chemo-brain does reverse or improve for some and, at a minimum, reaches a plateau and remains constant. 

There are no preventive or curative treatments for chemo-brain.  Patients are frequently counseled to employ various behavioral modifications (e.g. use of appointment books, PDAs, sticky notes, to-do lists, etc.) to compensate for cognitive deficits.  Studies have shown some improvement in cognitive function among sufferers through participation in formal cognitive rehabilitation program, similar to those used with victims of traumatic brain injury. I personally sought the assistance of a wonderful Speech Language Pathologist who helped me to devise strategies to improve my most bothersome symptoms.  Studies of cognitive training interventions (e.g. apps such as Luminosity, Brain Health) have demonstrated improvements in processing speed and executive function.  The use of medications (Methylphenidate, Modafinil) to improve verbal learning, memory, and attention have been shown to have some success.  Non-pharmacologic measures that have been shown to provide some cognitive benefits include meditation, qigong, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, exercise, biofeedback, and mindfulness.

Estimates of the prevalence of cognitive deficits in chemotherapy treated patients is highly variable, making it difficult to convince those outside the patient population of the reality of cognitive impairments. As scientific studies better define the difficulties stemming from chemo-brain, the medical community is increasingly acknowledging its existence. However, some members of the medical profession are still inclined to dismiss or downplay patients’ concerns about their symptoms.  For those patients whose symptoms are severe, the effects can pose a significant emotional and financial hardship to patients and their families, as evidenced by the following quotations from chemo-brain sufferers:

  • “My oncologist…discounted it, saying I’m fifty, the whole menopause thing. He patted me on the back, made me feel like I’m an idiot.” (Silverman)

  • “My ability to function in this vocation was being threatened, and it frightened me. It’s part of who I am.” (Clegg)

  • “I deal with issues of shame over this all over the place. Sometimes I feel humiliated, like a complete idiot.” (Clegg)

  • “I come across like I’m stupid, like I’m an airhead. I would like to change jobs, but what if I don’t remember new things?” (Silverman)

  • “When it happens, I die a million deaths and feel very dumb.” (Silverman)

  • “I’m not supporting my family anymore. You really feel kind of worthless.” (Silverman)

  • “While my boss, colleagues, and family didn’t really notice my mental lapses, I noticed!….. It would feel like my knees had been taken out from under me.” (Doroni)

If you or someone you know may be suffering from chemo-brain, discuss the matter with your healthcare team. If you are a healthcare provider, please take your patient’s concerns seriously.   Explore options for treating and overcoming symptoms.  Consider engaging the services of a life or executive coach to help deal with the impact of these symptoms can have on personal and professional life.  Most of all, be kind to yourself/your loved one/your patient.  Offer empathy and support.   The symptoms are real and they can be frustrating and scary. 

Debra Doroni is a certified executive and leadership coach. This article is for information purposes only and should not be seen as substitute for medical or therapeutic evaluation and advice.

Sources

Ahles T.A., & Saykin, A.J.  (2002). Breast cancer chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction. Clinical Breast Cancer, 3, S84-S90.

Boykoff, N., Moieni, M., & Subramanian, S.K. (2009). Confronting chemobrain:  An in-depth look at survivors’ reports of impact on work, social networks and health care response. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 3, 223-232. doi: 10.1007/s11764-009-0098-x

Clegg, E. (2009). Chemobrain: How cancer therapies can affect your mind. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

DeSantis, C.E., Lin, C.C., Mariotto, A.B., Siegel, R.L., Stein, K.D., Kramer, J.L.,…& Jemal, A. (2014).  Cancer treatment and survivorship statistics. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 64: 252–271. doi:10.3322/caac.21235

Ferguson, R.J., Ahles, T.A., Saykin, A.J., McDonald, B.C., Furstenberg, C.T., Cole, B.F, & Mott, L.A. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral management of chemotherapy-related cognitive change.  Psychooncology, 16, 772-777. doi: 10.1002/pon.1133

Frank, J.S.,  Vance, D.E., Triebel, K.L., Meneses, K.M..  (2015). Cognitive deficits in breast cancer survivors after chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, 47, 302-312.  doi: 10.1097/JNN.0000000000000171

Kesler, S. (2013). Improving cognitive function after cancer. Publisher: Author.

Matsuda, T., Takayama T., Tashiro, M., Nakamura, Y., Ohashi, Y., & Shimozuma, K. (2005). Mild cognitive impairment after adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients – evaluation of appropriate research design and methodology to measure symptoms. Breast Cancer, 12, 279-287.  doi:  http://doi.org/10.2325/jbcs.12.279

Moore, H.C.F. (2014, September). An overview of chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction, or ‘chemobrain’. Oncology. Retrieved from: http://www.cancernetwork.com/oncology-journal/overview-chemotherapy-related-cognitive-dysfunction-or-chemobrain

Reuter-Lorenz, P.A., & Cimprich, B. (2013).  Cognitive function and breast cancer: promise and potential insights from functional brain imaging. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 137, 33-43. doi:10.1007/s10549-012-2266-3

 Scherling, C.S., & Smith, A. (2013). Opening up the window into “chemobrain”: A neuroimaging review Sensors, 13, 3169–3203. doi:  10.3390/s130303169

Silverman, D., & Davidson, I. (2009). Your brain after chemo. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

Syrjala, K. (n.d.). Chemobrain. Fred Hutch.com. Retrieved from: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/treatment/survivorship/survival-strategies/chemobrain.html


Coaching for Chemo-brain

Chemo-brain (also known as chemo-fog) can be a challenging side effect for patients recovering from cancer treatment. Chemo-brain is characterized by a variety of changes in brain functions known as “executive functions”, including:

  • Impaired short-term memory,

  • Inability to multi-task, organize and plan,

  • Diminished motivation,

  • Challenges in initiating and following-through on tasks,

  • Impaired concentration,

  • Difficulty learning or retaining new tasks and skill sets,

  • Reduced processing speed and foggy thinking, and

  • Struggles with word-finding and articulation.

Chemo-brain is also associated with sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety.   While for some people, the changes are subtle and not significantly life-altering, those whose symptoms are severe or those who rely heavily on executive functioning in their profession or at home may no longer be able to function in their professional and personal lives. Many are unable to work in their prior profession and must find a new career. Others are forced into disability or retirement, or are laid off.  For some, lack of acknowledgement from friends, family and the medical community negatively impacts their relationships and leads to social stigma and isolation. Many cancer patients who experience chemobrain report that the impairment significantly changed who they were, emotionally and mentally.  Sufferers feel anxiety, frustration, low self-esteem, and feelings of helplessness, resignation, dependence, and worthlessness. They are no longer able to recognize themselves and no longer identify with the person they were prior to treatment. For some, the loss of self, credibility, respect of others, self-esteem and employment leads to an identity crisis.  I know this because I have chemo-brain and all of this happened to me.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from chemo-brain, discuss the matter with your healthcare team. If you are a healthcare provider, please take your patient’s concerns seriously.   Be kind to yourself/your loved one/ your patient.  Offer empathy and support.   The symptoms are real and they can be frustrating and scary.   Explore medical and rehabilitative options for treating and overcoming symptoms.  As part of these options, consider engaging the services of a life or executive coach to help deal with the impact that chemo-brain (or illness in general) can have on personal and professional life.

There have been no formal scientific studies of the effect of coaching for individuals suffering from chemo-brain. However, studies have shown that coaching can be of benefit for those facing identity challenges that emerge during times of transition and crisis, including during acute or chronic illness. For some people experiencing chemo-brain, the changes can be devastating and debilitative. It can feel just like an illness.  They may begin to feel like different people due to disruption of their body, the need for adjustments to their social and professional lives, and stress on relationships. It can interfere with work, or in the extreme, may precipitate re-evaluation of career identity and goals. A person’s self-perceptions and answers to the question “who am I?” may no longer seem valid and they may need to define and come to terms with who they are now.  A disrupted sense of “fit” may motivate them to clarify their life goals and values, and align their personal and professional decisions and behaviors.  They search for a way to navigate their chemo-brain identity with family friends, and co-workers.

Studies of people facing a chronic illness have shown that coaching can be a useful approach to help people: 

  • Gain acceptance of their condition,

  • Understand and develop measures to cope with and adapt to symptoms,

  • Support their personal and professional well-being

  • Realize their value as a person and employee and develop confidence,

  • Incorporate the meaning of their illness, establish new expectations and goals, create new concepts of wholeness and revise future plans, and

  • Adjust the way they present themselves, communicate about their symptoms and ask for accommodation.

A coach provides validation and support. They help people to develop gratitude, flexibility and adaptability, focus on their strengths and capabilities, improve self-confidence, develop new behaviors to manage performance, health, and stress, and identify new possibilities.  Coaching can be a resource for organizations to retain employees who are facing an illness, including chemo-brain, and decrease the occurrence of their transitioning to disabled status.  Coaches support people in re-defining their purpose, meaning, and fulfillment and reprioritizing career and personal goals.

Debra Doroni is a certified executive and leadership coach. This article is for information purposes only and should not be seen as substitute for medical or therapeutic evaluation and advice.


References

Ahles T.A., & Saykin, A.J.  (2002). Breast cancer chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction. Clinical Breast Cancer, 3, S84-S90.

Beatty, J.E., & McGonagle, A.  (2016). Coaching employees with chronic illness: Supporting professional identities through biographical work. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 14, 1-12.

Bilimoria, D. (n.d.). Women in Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change!. Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved from:  https://www.coursera.org/learn/women-in-leadership

Boykoff, N., Moieni, M., & Subramanian, S.K. (2009). Confronting chemobrain:  An in-depth look at survivors’ reports of impact on work, social networks and health care response. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 3, 223-232. doi: 10.1007/s11764-009-0098-x

Cancer and Careers. (n.d.). What’s next: Cancer as inspiration for career changes. Retrieved from http://www.cancerandcareers.org/en/looking-for-work/exploring-your-options/cancer-as-inspiration-for-career-changes

Clegg, E. (2009). Chemobrain: How cancer therapies can affect your mind. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Dilts, R., & Bacon, D. Coaching at the Identity Level. The NLP Institute of California, Retrieved from:  http://www.nlpca.com/DCweb/coachingattheidentitylevel.html

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