Welcome (Back) to Salesforce: One Year Later
by Rachel Park
I’ve been here before. Last year, this was my first “official” Salesforce event…A(fter).C(ancer).
Over three years ago, after years of working in Salesforce (and finally achieving my Salesforce Administrator certification), I was shockingly diagnosed with stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer shortly after turning 40. During over a year of 15 rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and 32 rounds of radiation, I was unable to work in order to focus on healing.
Now on a forced “break,” I lost my Salesforce certification. I not only lost my hair, I also lost my Salesforce cred. And I had worked REALLY hard for it.
To try to re-enter the tech world after a long absence is not easy, to say the least. (A few years gone in the real world is like dog years in tech; you not only have to catch up to where you were, but you also have to learn all the new bells & whistles that have been added since.) When I left the Salesforce ecosystem, there was no Lightning nor Trailhead. The community was always AMAZING — we just didn’t call it “Ohana” yet.
The Three Sweetest Letters
When I was officially declared to have N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) after my major surgery, I couldn’t believe it. Months of chemo always had me covering my head with a scarf, but after surgery, something shifted inside. If I could get through THAT, why shouldn’t I be proud? After my surgery, I held my (bald) head high. I never covered it again.
I often tell anyone who will listen that the hardest “stage” of cancer is the post-treatment one. I find one of two things happen after cancer: 1) Either you want the life you had; or 2) you want a new one. Although I had worked in Salesforce for years, I hadn’t been working with meaning. I took jobs that were mostly about a title or money…but not a purpose.
As much as I try to “get back to normal” (what does that even mean A.C.??) and navigate the scanxiety (cancer patients' fear and worry associated with scans, both before and after a test, before the results are revealed) of my oncologist check-ins every four months — while waiting to get the all-clear from a potential recurrence — I’m constantly reminded, Oh yeah. You had CANCER.
Waiting to Exhale
For those of you who don’t know, triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive and tends to recur. The highest risk of recurrence is within the first two to three years. As I recently approached my potential three-year cancerversary, I’ve also been dealing with the constantly heartbreaking news of survivor sisters losing their lives to Stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer, not to mention the survivor's guilt. I went to my latest check-in with a heavy heart, which showed on my face. (My oncologist remarked I looked even sadder than when we first met!)
As exciting as this milestone sounds, I felt an odd mix of emotions while holding my breath for the last three years. When I approached the two-year mark, everyone was like, "Oh, you can relax now!" But in my mind, I was like, Not for at least another year! Now, as I approached the three-year mark, I don't feel like I can (kinda) relax until I reach the five-year mark (when the chance of recurrence rapidly declines)...
And that’s the TRUTH about life after cancer — you can NEVER really relax; there is no finish line.
Chemo Brain, Who Dis?
Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. I also struggle with the ongoing effects of chemo brain (thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment). My memory — and body — is not what it was…and honestly, I hate it sometimes.
Yes, I can’t always remember things I used to, I have to take lots of notes, and I may have to ask the same question many times. And yes, you may get impatient. But I hope you don’t, and that in sharing this, you understand better how/why I have to manage it. (And that I allow myself the same patience in accepting my post-cancer body, flaws and all.)
Imposter Syndrome, I Wish I Could Quit You
Coming back into Salesforce without certification was tough. It was frustrating to keep explaining to everyone that I WAS certified and why I now wasn’t. (However, I always knew if I did it once, I could do it again.)
In returning to the tech world as a woman — especially as a woman of color — with a non-technical background (I’m a tie designer) who had been away for years, I often struggle with feeling like I truly belong in the room. Everyone tells you to “have confidence”…but it’s not always that simple. I not only have to just “catch up,” I also have to learn everything new that has happened since I have been gone, and it can all feel so overwhelming. My inner critic constantly asks, What if they find me out?
This is Why We Amplify
Shortly before Dreamforce, I noticed a callout from Girlforce for website help in the Power of Us Hub. Thinking it would be a small project, I reached out to Salesforce.org’s Jace Bryan (who has now become my wingman, in Salesforce AND life), another integral part of my return.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Girlforce would soon become the nonprofit, Amplify, and they would need an entire rebrand. Dreamforce was only a few short weeks away, and I thought, Surely, they don’t need this by Dreamforce?? (Careful what you wish for!)
Not only did we launch the new website during the Girlforce@Dreamforce breakfast in Salesforce Tower, Amplify also offered to share my story during the event. Yikes! Still trying to find my place back in the Ohana for months, I had been comfortably staying silent in the background and was nervous about sharing my story. Would people TRULY want to know what I had been through the past few years? What if it made me look less capable?
As I struggled with which part of my story to tell (it was a Salesforce event, after all), I didn’t think my design background nor survivor story was relevant at all. After discussing my jitters with my dear Salesforce friend, Laura Derby — who not only helped me re-enter the Ohana but also held me up through cancer & beyond — she asked, “What would you tell me?” And I responded, “Share your story. You never know who you may be helping.” I had answered my own question.
I often hear people talk about bringing “your whole self to work.” In previous positions, I never shared much about my life outside of work, and I certainly never shared about my creative life. (When I left an old position with a boss who always wore ties, I finally confessed my secret life as a tie designer, to which she replied, “That’s amazing! I wish you had told me sooner.” Looking back, me, too.)
People also constantly tell me I’m “too young for cancer.” (Obviously not!) In chemo rooms and support groups, everyone had grey hair. I never saw anyone that looked like me — especially as a young survivor of color. (Cancer survivors often struggle with sharing some of our truths after returning to work, worrying they may be seen as weaknesses.)
But I promised myself in sharing my survivor story, I would always be honest about my journey and hopefully, help other young breast cancer survivors feel less alone. (It’s important for me to give a face & a voice to a community in which I often do not feel represented.) Suddenly, I knew I couldn’t censor any parts of my life – they were all parts of my unique journey which led me to be at Dreamforce that day.
Finding my "WIT"
When I attended Force Academy LA last year, I only knew one person. I had just begun working with a new Salesforce team but had yet to meet them. Everyone (and everything) was new, and as a huge introvert, I was incredibly nervous.
As I approached the registration table, I saw this wonderful person smiling, wearing a hat with rainbows and clouds, and I asked to take a picture with her. That person was Miranda Ragland, co-founder of ITEquality. (Thank you, Miranda, for your welcoming smile, which greeted me so warmly.)
That day, I also met the co-leaders of the Salesforce Los Angeles Women in Tech (WIT) group, Monica Sandberg and Nickki Gibeaut. They had only had one meetup so far, but they kindly invited me to the next one, and I now try to attend as often as I can.
Both my Amplify and WIT sisterhoods have embraced, uplifted and empowered my return in countless ways as I re-entered this new world, and I cannot thank them enough.
(Speaking of incredible WIT, special thanks to Daisy Sayre — who not only gave me a Salesforce opportunity when no one else would — but also a new home on the awesome ImagineCRM team, with whom I am honored to work every day!)
May the (Sales)Force Be With You
This year, I attended Force Academy LA with a sense of belonging that I did not have last year. Not only did I have a new team behind me, but after a year back in the incredible Salesforce community, it was a comfort to see so many friendly Ohana faces, especially from all of the local Los Angeles user groups.
Last year, I had my headshot taken at the event. (After chemo, your hair grows back a different texture. Long, thick and straight B.C., mine had grown back thinner and curly!) But honestly, I was so happy to just BE THERE, I didn’t care about my post-chemo curls being in full force at the time.
However, as I (try to) move on from cancer, that headshot was a constant chemo reminder for the last year whenever I looked at it…and I couldn’t wait for a new one.
Short Hair, Don't Care
This year, I had a haircut scheduled the weekend before the event. I had finally grown it out into a style that resembled my B.C. hair. Since I knew I would be getting a new headshot soon, I was planning to only get a maintenance trim. But it was 90 degrees in Los Angeles, and I wanted to have some fun with a Summer style!
As cancer survivors, we have a (complicated) relationship with our hair. After working so hard to grow it back out again, I felt guilty about wanting to cut it, as did my hairdresser, who had styled me throughout my medical journey. But there is something incredibly empowering and liberating about cutting it because you WANT to — not because you have to — and knowing that it WILL grow back!
This year, I COULD NOT WAIT to take my new headshot! (THANK YOU to the incredible photographer, Kari Simmerman, for taking both pictures and capturing these amazing bookend moments in my Salesforce journey.)
Ohana, it’s good to (finally) be back! 💗
Rachel Park is a tie designer, founder of Rachel Park Designs, creator of The ParkPuff™ seatbelt pillow for breast cancer patients, and a Salesforce Certified Administrator (again). Since completing breast cancer treatment, her ties have been seen on the Emmys® red carpet and have received international press, plus she recently walked the New York Fashion Week runway.
She is a Trailhead Ranger, completed the RAD Women class, and her Salesforce/survivor story was featured on the inaugural episode of the SF Campfire Stories podcast. She is now a proud part of the awesome ImagineCRM team. Honored to have built the new website for Amplify (formerly Girlforce), she recently celebrated being three years cancer-free! Follow her on Twitter at @rachelparkties & @survivormoda.