By Brian Brokowski
On Jan. 2 at 11:11 a.m., I got the call nobody wants from the doctor – the biopsy was positive, and I had prostate cancer.
After going through the various stages of processing you might expect, I clung to the belief – or perhaps more accurately the hope – that “I’ve got this.” I’ve run 20 marathons after all – I know a thing or two about health and endurance. I have an incredibly supportive family and working environment. I could forge ahead, rely on my inner strength and the support of those around me to wage the battle ahead, continuing to live my life on all fronts, personally and professionally, while I dealt with this temporary hurdle.
Now, more than six months in, two things are apparent: First, my temporary hurdle is going to be more of an enduring marathon with continuing treatments. Secondly, that part about forging ahead? It’s not always so easy. This is especially true when it comes to balancing the emotional and mental impact of a traumatic experience like cancer with the desire to effectively use work as a supportive release and foundation of normalcy.
At Allison, I have been fortunate to have extremely supportive managers and have found peer-to-peer relationships that have helped me through this process. But even with this, the reality is some days are just plain difficult. I literally take things day by day.
My situation is far from unique. All around me I see colleagues who are experiencing their own challenges and personal traumas. After the last several years, there’s no shortage of it. I also see many struggle with that same balance I seek – a desire to maintain their professional life as a supportive element while fighting their personal battles. From my own experiences, I now see how difficult this can be.
When someone is going through a traumatic experience or life event – diagnosis and treatment of a disease, ongoing management of a disability, grief from the loss of a loved one, or caring for a loved one in need, we’re often told to rely on the support of those around us. And it’s true – when we face our greatest struggles, the relationships we have in our lives can be our greatest source of strength and support. They are for me.
Yet even though we spend more than half of our waking hours at work and many of our most consistent relationships from a day-to-day standpoint are with work colleagues, there can be an inevitable wall that rises – perceived or actual – between the struggles we face in our personal life and our interactions and obligations in the workplace.
Even with strong, inclusive company cultures, this wall can force people to check their emotional and physical struggles at the door once they enter the work environment. It’s difficult to know how or whether to share struggles with managers or peers. In a world where personal struggles often go largely unspoken, the assumption becomes “everyone else must just put their head down get through it, so I should as well.” We should be strong, right? The result can be a situation where one’s existence at work becomes incongruous to the daunting reality of their world at home. It’s tough.
At Allison, one of our core values is “Be Resilient.” What does it mean to be resilient? The American Psychology Association defines resilience as the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.
That’s exactly what so many of us need – but how can we be better at being resilient at work, particularly in the face of challenging life experiences? How can we work to break down the barrier between personal challenges and professional engagement? There are surprisingly very little resources available focused on trauma-focused resilience applied specifically to the workplace.
To help find these answers, I’m excited to team with Global Partner and President of North America Anne Colaiacovo and Chief of Staff Katy Spaulding to launch Allison+Resilience, a new Employee Advocacy Group that will work to break down the wall between personal challenge and professional engagement, exploring how we can build true resiliency at work in the face of personal adversity and create an even more supportive culture for those experiencing life traumas.
As colleagues, we are not doctors or therapists, but we can be allies, resources and shoulders to lean on in times of struggle. If we can do a better job facing our challenges together, we can help ensure our relationship with work can at a minimum co-exist with that struggle – and in the best cases be a positive source of support.
Allison+Resilience will address three key areas:
- Normalizing Struggle – Acceptance that personal trauma and struggle is real and there’s a supportive, accepting place for disclosure and sharing. We see you and we hear you.
- Creating Connections – Building shared strength in the face of challenges, providing opportunities to connect with colleagues experiencing similar situations and overcoming the sense of isolation.
- Solutions and Support – Identifying coping tools and other strategies to build resilience, better navigate day-to-day ups and downs and establish an effective relationship with work while times are tough.
The group will work across other existing EAGs, such as Allison+Family, Allison+Disability and Allison+Palette, among others, supplementing their efforts through programs and resources that address workplace resiliency in the face of any form of trauma.
In my journey I discovered an inspiring quote: “Healing is not fixing what’s broken, it’s rediscovering what’s not.” The hope is that through Allison+Resilience, we can help make our working lives a valuable part of the healing process as we face life’s inevitable challenges.
Finally, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Unfortunately, prostate cancer is one of the few forms of cancer where deaths are increasing rather than decreasing. Between 2017 and 2022, deaths from prostate cancer increased by nearly 30%. Research also shows cases of prostate cancer among younger people rose threefold between 1990 and 2019, the second-sharpest rise of any cancer.
If you’re a male around the age of 50, or someone you love is, I highly encourage you to talk to a doctor about PSA screening, especially if there is a family history. Fortunately, prostate cancer is highly treatable, but early screening is the key.
Brian Brokowski is General Manager, Growth & Operations for Southern California.