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On Courage: A Pulmonologist’s Tough Love (Your Audio Selfie)

Gratitude often comes in the form of thankfulness for all the good things one has in the world: a great job, a wonderful partner, a loving friend, a generous co-worker… Rarely does it come in the form of a reprimand. But that’s exactly the story Becky Sennett told us when she sat down for our Your Audio Selfie Project in Camden, Maine.

Becky lives in Ballston Lake, New York and is the director of communications for PopTech, a conference and mission-oriented community that brings together social entrepreneurs, scientists, designers, digital savants, and other practitioners for “curated collaboration.” She’s someone I’ve had the privilege of working with this past year. During that time, she never mentioned that she’d been diagnosed and undergone treatment for cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to be more precise.

When she sat down to answer our question, When you think of fearlessness or courage, what person or story or idea comes to mind?, it wasn’t the loving arms of a mother or a friend that came to mind — but the compassionate call to responsibility of a pulmonologist:

“When I think of fearlessness or courage I think back to almost three years ago to the day. I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And, as part of the process of figuring out what kind I had and course of treatment, I had to see a series of specialists before I finally ended up with an oncologist.

And I remember going to a pulmonologist, which I had never been to before, because of the way the tumor was near my lungs. They weren’t sure if it was in my lungs or behind it. So I always just think about the technician who I was with for two hours that day. He was doing a series of breathing tests with me and I had a really bad cough because of the tumor and the way it was pressing on my trachea, so I couldn’t really talk for extended periods of time or do these breathing exercises without erupting into into coughing fits, so the whole thing took much longer than it probably should have. But I remember when he was asking me questions about ‘What did I have? What have the doctors told me so far?’ I had no answers because I was so overwhelmed and I hadn’t really been paying attention to when the doctors were talking to me because I was just sort of in this state of shock.

I remember him giving me this tough love and sort of giving me this sense of courage and instilling in me like, ‘You sort of have to step up and deal with this and own it, and it’s a really crappy situation, but you need to know as much about it as you can to figure out what you’re going to do.’ And he kind of sat me down when I was crying and was just like, ‘You need to know exactly what you have. You need to have all the answers when the doctors are asking you what kind of tumor it is.’ Or what have you. The fact that he was kind of hard on me but very kind of compassionate and sympathetic at the same time… his words echo my mind a lot, especially today because it’s the anniversary of it and he’s just someone that kind of stuck in mind. I’m sure in his position it’s not easy to tell someone who’s twenty-six and really sick to kind of ‘buck-up’ but I’m pretty grateful for it.”

Interested in hearing more audio selfies on courage and fearlessness from PopTech: Rebellion?

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