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28 Jul, 2009

Coaching Cancer Sufferers

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles|Life Coaching Articles

Coaching Cancer Sufferers

My name is Christine Miljkovic, I am 46 years old and married with three sons. As an adult I have lived in England, Russia, The Netherlands and Singapore, where we recently returned after many years away. It will come as no surprise, then, that my core business is coaching expats, but what is less well known is that I also coach cancer sufferers and their families. It’s an unusual niche and it has come about as a result of me having suffered from breast cancer myself. I would like to share some of the journey with you.

My father was in the forces, which meant I am not only an expat adult but have also been a Third Culture Kid and expat child. We lived in Germany twice, the UK and Malaysia as children and I attended a weekly boarding school in Germany, which I loved. Being very sociable, I find it easy to make new friends, although I know that social ease doesn’t come naturally to everyone and so have always tried to help any new people I came across.

At the age of 16 I taught myself how to use the brand new word processors and never looked back – I became an expert demonstrator and trainer, subsequently spending the next 25 years in the computer industry, working for several UK companies and then starting my own computer training business for 10 years in Singapore and five years in the Netherlands. My market was mostly expat women and I really understood them, being one myself, and I helped my clients clarify their goals, encouraged them and supported them and seemed to have the gift of inspiring confidence. It was never really the computers that interested me, it w0as always the people – in retrospect I guess I was always a natural coach!

Therefore when I found out about Life Coaching while living in The Netherlands, I immediately recognised that this was my new life goal. Life coaching is about helping people to realise their true potential and supporting them during the process.  It is about forward movement, encouragement and always believing in them. What better transition for me? All I had to do was take away the computer and I was left with Life coaching. I qualified with the UK Coaching Academy after 15 months with a distinction and was very pleased with myself!

After I qualified I was living in Holland, which was in 2006. I then came back to Singapore with my family, and three months after launching my coaching business ‘Inspire Coaching’ here in Singapore I was diagnosed with breast cancer March 2008. It was shock to say the least, but being a qualified coach really helped me focus on getting from where I was to where I wanted to be, which was obviously to be healthy and cancer free.

Being a ‘process person’, it was important for me to enjoy the journey as much as possible, so I set about with an action plan of how to help myself. I set short, medium and long-term goals, and used all my own coaching skills on myself, and so managed to get through surgery, nine months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation relatively easily. As I explain in some of my breast cancer awareness talks, I really just took a gap year!

Since I knew what benefit I have received from coaching and how it had helped me overcome my cancer, it then seemed natural to set about helping others. I volunteered to go into the British school here and give an awareness talk to the 18-year-olds girls. I also helped a lot of others during that time and still support a number of newly-diagnosed people.

I have always believed that my mission is to empower women and although this experience is not one anyone would wish for, it has really made me find my true vocation: to makes people’s lives better whether they are sick or not.

I joined the breast cancer foundation and made lot of friends, and when I finished my treatment I started to help the foundation by running some workshops and going along with the staff to give breast cancer awareness talks. I always tell people during my talks how much my coaching training has helped me and that I am now back at work with my coaching practice. The Breast Cancer Foundation sometimes calls me and refers new patients to me. 

My oncologist, a world-class Singaporean doctor and cancer pioneer, also calls me to help some of his newly diagnosed patients and is happy to recommend my coaching package to anyone who he thinks will benefit for it.

Friends of friends, who hear of a loved one newly diagnosed, contact me for help and support as there is very little people can do and they really want to help, so finding a coach who is providing such a niche service is an amazing gift, if done with special care and from the heart, which is definitely how I coach.

A lot of the coaching I do is about motivation. Setting short-term goals to get through the treatment and longer term ones too. It’s about staying positive, asking for help and support from those around you and doing your best to feel normal. I use the ‘wheel of life’ to get a new focus for what’s important from now on and work towards the end of treatment and recovery.

I work on affirmations to help people stay positive and keep away the little voice of doubt. I encourage them to meditate, exercise and meet up with other cancer patients as all of these things really helped me. It is obviously important for each individual to be comfortable with their own style of recovery as we are all different and some people are very private. We discuss whom they have in their lives for support and who they may not need to have too close or even around, such as anyone who can’t deal with illness or is at all negative or selfish. Self talk is very important in life generally, but especially when you are ill. A fighting spirit is crucial when you have a life-threatening disease.

I have run some vision board workshops for my chemo friends, during my treatment to keep my hand in and had amazing results. One stage 4 friends pasted pictures of her small children’s heads onto wedding dresses, so she would stay focused and look to the future and believe she would be there for their wedding days. Everyone also pasted all the things they wanted back in their lives, such as pictures of beautiful hairstyles, polished fingernails, and high heels and any of the things that you lose during chemotherapy.

I usually coach one to one or in small groups for workshops, but you could also coach as a family. I offer telephone support too, as when my clients are feeling low and their blood count is down, it can be hard for them to come out but they can always talk on the telephone.

As I have been through cancer recently I was able to empathise and understand, but just having someone independent who will listen to your concerns and help you move forward in a detached way is most unusual and so badly needed.

Although initially you may think it is a depressing area, in fact you bring so much into people’s lives that it is a very positive experience and anyone who has a background in people, medical or nursing etc. would probably make a great coach in the niche, so if you feel drawn to it, please do investigate further because coaching changes cancer sufferers lives for the better by getting them to focus on what wonderful things lay ahead in the future and stops them dwelling on the past, the why me’s and feeling sorry for themselves. After all, coaching is about forward positive movement and taking action. We do discus what they can do to change the way they were living their lives for the better by included exercise, eating a healthy diet etc, but obviously I don’t give any medical advice.

Of course, coaching cancer patients is a delicate niche area, and I would hate to think of the sick being taken advantage of, so I tend to think of it as giving back to society, like a social or corporate responsibility, as most people with cancer lead very stressful lives, and therefore I charge lower rates that I usually do and make sure I provide a truly worthwhile service. Obviously coaching cancer patients are only a part of my general practice and are not intended to be the most profitable, but the difference it makes is enormous.

One client said that without my help she would have been completely lost and depressed, and that it has made an enormous difference to her recovery, and I have had several of the husbands of cancer patients thank me on many occasions and say what a difference the coaching has made to their wives – my focus being breast cancer so far. They have said that when their wives met me they were depressed and crying all the time and now they are so much stronger and positive and with the help of the vision board workshop, looking forward to the future. And what better testimonial could there be than that?

A word from Bev James Coaching Academy MD
Christine is someone I’ve known ever since I was a delegate at the Certificate weekend, when we sat next to each other. She was such a warm and bubbly person that we immediately became firm friends and have stayed in touch ever since. We meet up about one a year when Christine pops back to the UK.

I was so sad when Christine told me she had breast cancer, but not in the least surprised with the way she remained positive and optimistic throughout, and then used her coaching skills and personal experience to help other in a similar situation.

On a very personal note I am now living with and supporting a relative suffering with terminal cancer and even though the future may be bleak, each day is bright. Yes there are challenges, but there is also laugher, fun and daily plans make the most of every moment. I have certainly learnt and grown from being a part of it, and I totally appreciate the journey Christine has been on and the great work that she does. I am sure that her article will inspire and educate you, and would welcome your feedback and any your personal journeys you would like to share.

14 Responses to "Coaching Cancer Sufferers"

1 | Velma

July 29th, 2009 at 9:07 am

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Christine,
Hi. What a brilliant testimony of your life and also what you are doing. My background is in medicine and I so value what you do for people living with cancer. You are indeed and inspiration. I am still in training and not sure where I’ll end but keep on girl. God bless you.

2 | Barbara Cobbold

July 29th, 2009 at 9:10 am

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Wow, what an inspiring story!
I took the Personal Diploma in Coaching when I was diagnosed with ME and was about to lose my job as a University Lecturer. The positive outlook the course helped me to develop has stood me in great stead and certainly helped me on my way to recovery. It would have been very easy to fall back into despondency and despair but by reframing all that negativity into what can I do, rather than what I cant do I have managed to learn to live with the ME and set up a small but growing Coaching practice.
As Christine says positivity is so important when things look bleak and sometimes step sizes have to be adjusted as the situation changes, sometimes big steps, sometimes small steps, but always steps going forward in a positive way. Friends look at me in amazement too and comment on my positive attitude and always having the ability to seek the solution rather than allowing the problem to overshadow everything.
Good luck to you in your coaching business, it seems there is a real need for coaches within the health service to help patients move forward through illness to find a new way of being post diagnosis. Perhaps a whole new niche area for a new generation of coaches coming through?

3 | Alison Cowles

July 29th, 2009 at 9:57 am

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I have just read Christinas story re coaching cancer patients.
I have had cancer twice one after the other so it was a long road. I am a qualified life and business coach and always advocate positivity in everything no matter what. We as humans are only given one shot @ life so may as well enjoy every minute of every day and live it as if its the last!
I had a friend who died of breast cancer her spirit still lives on.

I have had to overcome a lot more than most as well as overcoming cancer. But am still here enjoying my day.

4 | BARBARA

July 29th, 2009 at 11:13 am

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I found your journey very interesting as I too have turned my health problem into a positive journey by coaching people with chronic pain.
Thank you for your account. I found it inspiring.

5 | Charlotte Browne

July 29th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

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Thanks for sharing this Christine, your story is indeed very inspiring and has got me thinking further about some of the more socially-minded niches I might place my coaching skills in. My friend has recently had a book published about her battle with breast cancer, it’s a very humourous take on her experience but this doesn’t detract from the courage it also took for her to survive cancer. Am not sure if I’m allowed to plug on here but just in case, here is the link, it really is an inspiring and entertaining read. http://janiceday.wordpress.com/about/
Barbara, I’ve a close friend who’s been living with ME for the past two years so it would be great to hear more about your coping strategies, I will check out your website. Thanks

6 | Diana Barden

July 29th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

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Hi Christine, what a fantastic story. I’ve just read and re-read every word, and every single word resonated with me. I also lived as an ex-pat in Germany for 11 years from 1983 to 1993 after studying languages in the UK. 2 months after my return to the UK (I came back to study for an MBA) I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and once having got through the ‘am I going to be here for my next birthday’, I set about using my skills to give something back. I’ve been a volunteer with Breast Cancer Care for 15 years now, and it has added so much to the work I do in my ‘proper’ work as a trainer and coach. Although I use my coaching skills with people I come across through my voluntary work, I had not thought of coaching cancer patients before. I tend to separate my voluntary work from my fee-earning client work in my own mind. Actually that separation is quite artificial, as you have shown in your article.

I’d love to chat with you some more about your work – meanwhile I wish you continued good health and success in what you are doing. Keep up the good work! And thank you for your inspiration

7 | michelle clarke

July 29th, 2009 at 2:03 pm

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wow – what a story. Christine you are obviously an inspiration to everyone you come into contact with and I have huge admiration for the work you do. 1 in 3 of us will suffer from cancer at some point in our lives and I believe coaching could and should be available to those diagnosed and their families. My brother works for Cancer Research UK – would you mind if i passed on your details?

wishing you a wonderful day
Michelle

8 | Jacqueline Pigdon

July 29th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

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Thanks Christine for sharing your amazing and inspirational story. I too have coached a cancer patient and watched a truly inspiring inner strength and dedication to being positive and committed to health and life no matter what.

I always try to help as many people as possible benefit from spiritual coaching that I have been so blessed to receive myself.

I have just released a new instant download MP3 Audio titled ‘Life Lessons Through Sport’ where I share three amazing stories that my Spiritual Guider taught me that changed my life forever…

Go To: http://www.jinalife.co.uk/products.php

9 | Daniella Slabbert

July 29th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

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Hi Christine,

What a fantastic coaching niche. I too am in a similar situation. I had breast cancer in 2007 and my time of recovery has led me on an incredable journey. http://www.breastaware.blog.com I have since qualified as an nlp master and am working with cancer sufferers and their families.

I would love to have a chat with you if you have a moment. My email address is daniella_za@yahoo.com

Lots of strength and love to you.
Daniella

10 | Christine Miljkovic

August 2nd, 2009 at 11:42 am

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Hi There fellow Coaches and trainees,

I am touched to have received such a warm and postive response to my article. Cancer is indeed a difficult thing to cope with for those who have had it and those who are supporting friends and family, as coaches we have the chance to make the world a better place for those around us. The coaching academy has made a big difference to my life and my future I am sure. Keep up the good work everyone. Please feel free to contact me on the following email, I would love to hear from you.

Warm Regards

lifecoachchris@hotmail.com

11 | Bev James MD of The Coaching Academy

August 2nd, 2009 at 3:45 pm

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I am deeply touched and inspired by the response to Christine’s article. I believe the response sums up the true essence of coaching – positive, inspiring and caring. In my opinion coaches are a unique group of people who can positively impact our world, by helping their clients face adversity creatively and with courage.

12 | Dominique Ventura

August 27th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

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Fabulous! would love to talk to you.

Also, have you read my 2 stories in the Blogs

“life is not a peaceful river” and “The turtle and the cat”

Talk soon I hope.

Dominique

13 | Taeko Taira-Howse

September 2nd, 2009 at 11:39 am

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Hello Christine,

Thank you very much for sharing your story. I am a Japanese and marry to English expat for 25 years. We met in Hong Kong while I was working with airline. He was diagnosed with leukaemia 16 years ago and now we are back in UK for 13 years. He has been HongKong for 25years and returned to own country so I thought everything would be ok. No, things are still very difficult for us. I do not have a good friend whom I can talk about my own problem. He wants to return to Asia or any place where his old expat friend settled down. He is not happy with his life and very depressed. But he does not want to admit it. Everyday I wake up in fear that how long it would take,,, I went to local school to learn about “Holistic Therapy, one year Diploma Course” and did voluntary work at Hospice and Hospital. But he does not want me to work with sick people, again, which make me sad about that I can not do what I believe to help our situation. (Because sometime, i loose temper)
Oh, I am sorry. Anyhow, I will keep reading homepage and get spirit to cope with daily life. I will go through with him, We can do it together. Thanks for reading,,I just needed to express myself. I feel better now. Many Thanks.

14 | Ann Girling

September 9th, 2009 at 10:39 am

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I love to hear women’s stories .. they are so inspiring as yours is Christine. My niche is similar to yours but my story different. I suffered from post natal depression which led onto a later mental health problem. I chose to leave my job as a health visitor at the great age of 52 and trained as a coach. What I have learnt is the combination of skills we bring to the world which then lead us to finding our niche. My personal (also experienced secondary infertility and then miscarriage)and professional experiences take us on that journey. I now coach women who have experienced trauma or illness at some point in their lives and it’s fab!

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