Erin Grau is Charter's COO and co-founder, and a breast cancer survivor.
Four years ago, from a small treatment room at Mt. Sinai’s Dubin Breast Center, I texted my best friend from my weekly chemo session. My husband had snapped a photo of me on a work call with an IV in my arm and my laptop open on the table. I sent it to her with the caption: “File under: you really can have it all.”
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2018, it didn’t occur to me that I would stop working. After the doctor called to share my biopsy results, the first person I told I had cancer was my husband. The second was my boss at the startup where I was head of people and culture. Both of them told me the same thing: We would get through this together.
The night before I started chemotherapy, unable to sleep, I did what every doctor told me not to do—I turned to the collective wisdom of the internet. After obsessing over my prognosis (it’s good!) and side effects of chemo (they’re bad!), I searched for tips for working through cancer treatment—and was shocked that I found almost nothing about how to balance it all. Instead, article after article instructed me how to hide my chemo side effects. Apparently, I could trick everyone I worked with into thinking I just preferred short hair and had a newfound love of hats. Even more discouraging: I learned that unemployment rates were higher for breast-cancer survivors thanks to discrimination, the difficulty juggling treatment with full-time work, and the long-term effects of cancer.
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