Leah Johnson is a Vice President, Advisory, where she leads Gartner’s global meeting series for Chief Human Resource Officers and is one of the leaders of research teams focused on strategic HR topics including culture, digitalization, leadership, performance management and succession management. Leah is also a cancer “thriver” who below describes her Life at Gartner and one of the many ways that Gartner associates support each other.
For some reason, I really react negatively to the term “survivor,” so I prefer to call myself a breast cancer “thriver.” And given that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’d like to share some of my story about how my colleagues at Gartner helped me thrive over the past 21 months since I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
I went in for my regular mammogram in mid-December 2016. Routine, never had an issue. Got a letter in the mail a week later asking me to come back for a relook at something, and then that spiraled quickly to a series of additional tests and the breast cancer diagnosis in early January.
The day after I got that stunning news, I was supposed to travel to our Gartner offices in Arlington for a meeting. I work remotely from my home in Louisville, Kentucky. You’d think I’d cancel that trip immediately, wouldn’t want to think about work, but I really wanted to do that trip. You want family around you at a time like that, and my work colleagues at Gartner are family to me. I also wanted to speak with my manager about what this meant, the potential impact on my work and how we were going to proceed through this journey of unknowns.
I was in my 26th year at Gartner (now — at that point still with CEB), and in a role where I worked with research teams to develop the research and then facilitated live and virtual meetings with HR executives to teach and discuss it. I had a full calendar of travel, meetings, webinars and research checkpoints stretching out ahead of me — and as scary as my health situation was, I was also really nervous about how I could work (or not), how I could meet those obligations (or not) and who I might be able to ask for help (which I hate to do). I’m a single parent with two kids and three dogs — I couldn’t imagine the impact this could have not only on my health, but also on me professionally and financially.
What unfolded over the next 18 months was simply unbelievable. My colleagues in Arlington cried with me and vowed to stay strong with me. My manager told me to remember that my health came first and that we’d work everything else out. Coworkers immediately started taking some of my scheduled meetings so I could have an open calendar for all my pre-surgery diagnostic procedures and testing. My manager moved into the research team I was working in so that I could move out. As word spread around the company about my situation, I got an outpouring of calls and texts and random packages meant to give me comfort and help me know that others were thinking about me. When I look back at that time from early January through the rest of the year, I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t get a note or text or email from someone at Gartner checking up on me.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve had seven surgeries, 18 weeks of the most intense chemo possible and 33 radiation sessions. I went from Stage 1 to Stage 4 and then back to Stage 3 in my diagnosis. And although I took five weeks off for my initial surgeries, I have worked through all the rest of my treatment — thanks to the support, understanding and compassion of my Gartner colleagues. They moved meetings on my chemo days, brought in additional support to ease my load, took travel off my plate and just generally kept saying, “How can I help?” and “What do you need?” My doctors told me that women who work through treatment tend to have better outcomes, and I was determined to get the best outcomes possible. And I have. The crazy thing is that at this point, I don’t think I have ever been healthier or happier. I tend to think that everything happens for a reason. My breast cancer not only forced me to focus on the things that are most important to me, my health and my family, but it also gave me a new appreciation of and profound gratitude for the good things in my life. And my colleagues at Gartner are really, really good.
Are you interested in joining a team that supports you through anything? Gartner is your answer. Search for a new opportunity here.