What My Online Profile Says About Cancer and Who I Am


Whether you have online profiles or not, you and I have something in common. We are statistics and we experience crises in our lives. 

What I did with my LinkedIn profile tells how I dealt with cancer and my identity — then and now. Here is how.

There was a time when I was OK with being a statistic. Because overall, I was doing well. Most statistics I identified with, no problem. Others I could shrug off easily, no problem. That all changed when life presented me with one particularly big challenge.

If you think about it, how many of the statistics you belong to are you comfortable with? How many are loaded with ignorance and prejudice?

There are times in our lives when things change, suddenly or slowly — unemployment, illness, relationship breakdowns, burnout, midlife crisis, etc.

A crisis affects how we feel about ourselves, the person we think we are and what others make of us.

Recently I rejoined LinkedIn after a pause of several years. With ‘0’ connections I am building up a new network, and a new “experience” that made me leave LinkedIn in the first place.

The day I found a lump in my right breast life started to change very quickly. I became another statistic:

A woman with cancer, a patient, unemployed and according to my local authority, disabled.

These were statistics I was not prepared for and did not want to belong to. 

I was very rapidly losing layers of my identity and started to become financially and physically dependent on others. I felt I was losing my independence and with that, my value.

Nothing of what I had achieved or knew mattered. The perception of others towards me changed.

I was left with a gaping hole of meaning. Who am I?

Sudden life-changing moments can throw us in at the deep end, with no-one to catch us or to teach us.

You will have your own experience with difficult change, the sense of isolation and loss of voice. Many people don’t want to hear us, don’t want to or can’t understand us.

At some point I turned to my LinkedIn profile.

I added a new “Experience:” Sabbatical, cancer treatment.

It was an immensely meaningful step. While I became frailer and frailer — financially, socially, relationally, physically and mentally — I needed to claim my position and my status, personally, professionally and openly, without shame.

Yes, cancer was a new experience that would test me, teach me, shape me, make me feel weak and make me feel strong. Yes, and it may kill me.

Did any of my LinkedIn connections notice the change? I don’t know. I did not hear anything.

A year later I started to be well enough and financially weak enough to start thinking seriously about how to earn a living.

I decided in favor of setting up a private practice. I need to be self-employed, with all the financial risks that entails. Because I need to be in charge of my own schedule and life.

I decided to close down my LinkedIn account. I was not interested in LinkedIn or any other professional networking.

I did not see the benefit and my energy was still limited. My world needed to remain small.

As I grew in new confidence, self worth and energy I started to find my old voice and a new voice, too. I started writing — about a lot of things, but especially about making peace. But I also need an audience, and so I needed to start networking again, first via Twitter, then eventually via Facebook and now again via LinkedIn — all from scratch, slowly, step by step, minding my identity and integrity.

Who am I?

I asked that question again, when completing the “Experience” section on LinkedIn last week. Who am I — professionally and personally? For me there is little difference, they are inseparable.

I decided to go back to the beginning, back to 1989 when I finished my first degree. I felt like claiming my history and closing a circle. When it came to 2012 I decided to enter under “Experience:”

Breast Cancer treatment: Patient and first-hand experience of the emotional impact of cancer. This experience, like anyone affected by a life-changing illness knows, is ongoing.

I no longer need the word “sabbatical.”

Then it was an attempt to still fit into the “acceptable” language and career development path set up by others. I bought into it and I am glad I did. Because “sabbatical” gave me meaning and identity, when I was at my weakest — a bit like a cancer journey, which is another metaphor I have outgrown, for now.

Sabbatical was an important placeholder, without which I would have felt like I had disappeared. Now, I am in a different place, thankfully. For how long? Who knows. And there might come a time, sooner or later, when the term sabbatical feels more appropriate and necessary than it feels now.

Now I call the “Experience” exactly what it was — nothing more and nothing less — and with unapologetic and proud ownership.

I wonder what would happen…

What if we all included periods of illness or other crises in our LinkedIn or other professional profiles, CVs, etc?

“Probably a lot of discrimination,” I hear you say.

Not everyone wants to or needs to do what I did. We all have choices, whatever happens, whether you are in employment or not. We might not have all the choices we would like to have. But exercising our choices is important when our world gets turned upside down.

We need to try and keep playing an active part, and even if this means we choose silence and privacy. 

As long as our choice is not fueled by fear, then our sense of identity and self worth stands a better chance of seeing us through, whatever life may throw at us.

Karin Sieger is a therapist and writer. She lives on an orange houseboat in London, UK, where she started writing during her treatment for breast cancer. She specializes in transitions, endings, making peace, the emotional impact of cancer and offers cancer counseling training for counsellors/therapists. To find out more visit karinsieger.com. To subscribe to Karin’s newsletter sign up here.

This post was originally published on KarinSieger.com.

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Thinkstock photo by Alex Bors

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