George Orwell once wrote “In the face of pain, there are no heroes”. Laud his thoughts but he had this so wrong! I know a hero who has faced pain and suffering every day and yet she continues to help body and soul. Here is Tabitha’s story.
I walked in to Dr.Tabitha Healey’s work space recently to have a chat for this post and immediately felt at ease. Calming music, soft tones and herbal tea on a lounge set the scene for a candid, humorous and heart wrenching talk about her 18 year career as an Oncologist and her subsequent change in direction.
The harmonious surroundings did well to diminish what pressures her job created and the sleepless nights she had endured for so many years. She delivered the bad news of the worst kind to patients. That ‘there is nothing more that can be done.’
Tabitha’s path to becoming an Oncologist was well defined after learning she could not ‘do blood’. As a communication specialty, Oncology allowed her to nurture her strengths- to empathise and reach out to those in need.
She admits most of her referrals came from people who knew her as the ‘talking doctor’. She relished the relationships she built with patients through simply communicating. The now dying arts of talking and listening were paramount in her career and this feeds through to what she does today.
Specialising in treating young women with breast cancer and ovarian cancer, Tabitha created a name for herself and ran her practice for 18 years. However she also explains that this was ‘[her] greatest undoing’. The emotional load which accompanied helping young women of a similar age to her, with young children, became too much. After 15 years of sleeping only a few hours a night, her career was taking its toll.
One battle that wore Tabitha down was that of seeing patients who chose to try alternative therapies that are unproven, untested and seek to replace scientifically proven medicines.
Tabitha said ” I had a huge problem with it. It became more and more of a battle and part of what grinds you down is seeing people with treatable diseases going down the path of alternative medicine. Seeing alternative therapists claim extraordinary things and never having to own them or justify them. They charge exorbitant amounts of money and take advantage of people who are absolutely desperate, and then abandon them when things got tough. People would end up back with us when their disease was exploding.”
One of the biggest lessons Tabitha learnt through her Oncology career was that ‘you never know what is going to happen’. She said while we CAN control to some degree our lifestyle choices ie. we should exercise five times a week, eat foods your grandmother would recognise, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t get too much sun and don’t be overweight, ultimately it is ‘in the lap of the Gods’. We need to get on with our lives. She said she has treated Buddhist, vegan monks with cancer so we just don’t know what is around the corner.
She said her greatest legacy was setting up complimentary care in the Cancer Centre. This included massage, reflexology and acupuncture while patients were going through their chemotherapy and it made a huge difference to the trauma present while receiving the drugs. This care also continued through rehabilitation post treatment. Sleep, exercise, healthy nutrition and meditation being huge factors here.
An acclaimed ‘queen of self care’, nothing could ease the never ending worry and stress associated with her patients’ scans, questions and outcomes of the next day. Emotional care exhausted her into a change of career- and most deservedly.
Where Tabitha told me she ‘quit’ her Oncology career, I would much rather suggest she ‘changed direction’. She made the hard but very right decision to opt for moving on. A difficult three months for ‘saying goodbye’ to current patients gave way to new horizons.
The first night after she stopped working, she slept for 8 hours straight. A pleasure we other folk simply take for granted! She never regretted her decision.
After 12 months, Tabitha explains that she ‘really missed medicine.’
She said ” I really missed being part of something that’s bigger than me. That extraordinary relationship that occurs through supporting people who are in desperate need . So there’s this incredible feedback that comes from that and that’s what was now missing in my life.”
This ‘hole’ was filled with three days a week working at Mary Potter Hospice in Palliative Care. While people question her move from Oncology to Palliative Care, Tabitha explains that it is ‘such a different space’ and the responsibility of keeping people alive is no longer there. The difficult conversations have already taken place and the acceptance of mortality is evident.
She explained that “injecting joy into this very acute period of life is so incredibly satisfying. Being able to peel people off the ceiling of distress, anxiety and agitation and make them comfortable, calm them down and then allowing them to have meaningful time in that final phase is just so incredible.”
Working in Palliative Care has brought to light a valuable life lesson Tabitha shared with me.
She explains that those who have lived a life true to themselves and have no regrets have much calmer, quieter and comfortable deaths. Their transition is seamless. Those who have lived lives beholden to others or beholden to unhappy circumstances have harder deaths full of stress, things left unsaid and agitation. It is very sad.
She said ” undoubtedly the greatest thing at the end of your life is your close, personal relationships. The investment you have made in your close network is THE most important thing when nothing else matters. When possessions don’t matter and status is irrelevant, what matters is how you’ve formed relationships over time”.
During her year off, as a try-hard-domestic-goddess, Tabitha decided on life coaching as her next chapter. She said the experiences from being in Palliative Care ‘feeds so well into life coaching’. She often asks the question ‘if you were going to die next week how would reflect on your life? ‘. This leads into other questions, ‘what’s working?’,’ what’s not working?’ ‘what would you change?’.
Now, fervently running her own life coaching business, Tabitha explains it is ‘beautiful in its simplicity’.
“You don’t give anyone advice. You simply help them to identify their own strengths, to find their own way and as a result of that they have a ‘buy in’ to what they are going to do. Coaching is this beautiful thing of helping people to recognise what matters to them and then guiding them to what strengths and resources they have to get them there. As a result they achieve much more than if you told them what to do because they are fully committed.”
Currently firing on all cylinders through word of mouth, Tabitha’s life coaching business in Kent Town, Adelaide https://www.tabithahealey.com specialises in executive wellbeing and survivorship coaching .
She explains that empowering women to believe in themselves and that they can perform on an even level without hiding their attributes is very important. She said ‘we women are very good at hiding our skills’.
She loves to see her clients who may come in ‘crushed and broken’ who now ‘have their lives back’. They are back to being confident, re-engaged in their relationships, taking their careers forward and making profound changes for a happier life.
Accountability is one of the main factors life coaching can be so helpful. Doing ‘homework’ amongst asking yourself some hard questions and then meeting up with your life coach are necessary elements in helping yourself move forward. With her experience as a doctor of Oncology, a Palliative Care Specialist, a mum and a woman in the workplace, Tabitha exudes a kudos full of professionalism, comfort and strength.
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts his or her accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Tabitha explains that Imposter Syndrome is rife amongst professional women and she finds her work so satisfying -to be able to lift these women up to believe in their abilities and skillsets.
‘I’m so busy’ is a ‘badge’ Tabitha hears often. She explains that rather than being busy, we need to shed the parts of our lifestyle that don’t matter enough to us. We need to narrow down what has real value in our days and nurture these things. We should review our life and work out what really matters. She said that ‘multi-tasking is a myth’ and that so much more can be accomplished through single tasking something well.
Tabitha is a huge fan of the book ‘The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta which teaches that simplifying your life and getting rid of the unnecessary stuff is how to achieve more. We need to work out what really matters to us, be it relationships, interests, mindfulness or work.
Tabitha admits that as a society we try to do too much. Our children are over committed, we try to do too many tasks at once and we don’t take the time to appreciate our own space.
She now makes efforts to get back to nature, detox from devices (as we ALL should) and enjoy the family around her. She has scaled back on social engagements, watches the sunrise each day with Tai Chi and asks for help more often.
Tabitha now lives through her work ethic- ‘achieve what matters’. She has the caring, approachable and comfortable nature and knowledge to help YOU do the same. She can help you review your life, ascertain what truly matters to you and how to get you to where you want to be, living the life you won’t regret.
“Change begins when the fear of not acting at all at last outstrips the paralysing fear of making a mistake” , Alain de Botton.
I thank you for your time Tab. Wishing you well every day. You deserve it.
In the comments below, I’d love you to share what matters to YOU each day. What is it that you will never regret?
PS- If you would like to work with Tabitha as your life coach, you can contact her through her website https://www.tabithahealey.com/