When it comes to your health, you never really know when things can take a turn. Caroline Yeats shares her story of relaunching her career as an investment banker to become a nutritionist after being diagnosed with incurable Stage IV bowel cancer in her early 30s. We’ll discuss investing your time in only those things that matter and treating each day as if it’s your last. The week we had planned to record this conversation, Caroline actually had to have a sudden, emergency heart surgery, but she very generously insisted on still doing this recording, which gives you a glimpse into her positive attitudes about life and work. During today’s Mental Fuel segment, I’ll share the steps I’m trying to take to create the future I desire.
Key Career Insights
- When you’re in a balanced place in life and invested your time doing things you care about, you can truly enjoy each day.
- Doing things that make you miserable is not worth it because life is just too short.
- Thinking about important questions can potentially change the rest of your life. What do you want? What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What can you do about it?
- Imagine what you want your ideal life to look like in 5 or 10 years. What can you do right now to make that happen?
- You have to decide which issues you will allow to consume you, then reconsider whether it’s worth the stress.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about deciding exactly what you want your life to look like in the future. Decide what specific actions you’ll take right now to maximize the chances of making this vision come true. While there are no guarantees things will turn out exactly as you hope, you might as well do everything you can to try and turn your hopes into reality.
About Caroline Yeats, Nutritionist
Caroline Yeats started her professional life in investment banking after graduating with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from The University of Oxford. After five years, she joined one of her banking clients, Xstrata Mining, as an Investor Relations Manager. Following the company’s takeover, she was a founding member of a new mining venture, X2 Resources, but a serious medical issue led her to leave her corporate life behind to pursue a career as a nutritionist and found Nutritious Living. She’s currently completing her studies while writing three books, caring for her toddler and undergoing treatment for incurable stage IV bowel cancer.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): Imagine yourself in 5 or 10 years’ time and your ideal life, and then think about what you can do right now to make that happen. Don’t wait for 5 or 10 years. Start doing things now that mean that that will be a reality.
Joseph: Good morning, Caroline. Thank you so much for coming on to Career Relaunch.
Caroline: Good morning. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to take part.
Joseph: There are so many things I want to talk with you about today, Caroline. I just want to start by saying I really don’t feel like we can do justice to everything you’ve been through in a half-hour conversation, but I’m going to try. I’m hoping to talk about your decision to leave the world of banking behind and also the impact your health has had on your career decisions and outlook on life. Can you start by sharing a glimpse into what’s been happening in your life, even over the past week? Because especially as it relates to your health, I understand you’ve just come out of an emergency heart operation.
Caroline: I have indeed. We didn’t know I would be able to record this, because two days ago, I was still in the hospital having been admitted to A&E on Thursday with fluid around my heart which had to be drained in an emergency. Perhaps let’s take a step back from that.
Last year, I was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. That means it has spread to various places in my body. My prognosis is poor if I’m honest. It’s an incurable condition although I am having treatment. I’ve been treated with works of surgery, radiotherapy, along with chemotherapy fortnightly, and I’m responding well to it. That’s kind of where I am right now, and I think it’s important to get that because it had influenced a lot of my career decisions over the past few years.
Perhaps to step back a little bit further and give you a very brief history of me, I am an Oxford graduate. I studied philosophy, politics, and economics, and the typical way of going into the city and starting working in investment banking. This was 13 years ago now. I went to Deutsche Bank and spent five years there.
It was a fantastic career as an early 20-something. I learned a huge amount. I worked with incredible people, both within the bank and on the client side. I was in a client-facing role in corporate broking. I got to spend a lot of time with big companies and CEOs and CFOs, which was just amazing really, as somebody starting out with their career.
It was something that I need that I wouldn’t want to do forever. It was very intense. It was very long hours. I didn’t have much of a life, so after five years, I actually moved to one of my clients, a mining company called Xstrata. It’s a very big company at the time.
I spent a few years with them. They were then taken over, and I stayed with the CEO and CFO of that company, and we set up a new mining company, which is sort of private equity backed. We raised a big fund to go out and buy mining assets. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.
Then everything kicked off with my health, and three years ago, I decided to leave the city world altogether and started training as a nutritional therapist. That’s where I am at the moment.
Joseph: I definitely want to talk more about each of those two pivots in your career. Before we do that, you alluded to the cancer. For those listeners who aren’t familiar with the various stages of cancer, what exactly is stage four bowel cancer, also known as secondary or metastatic colorectal cancer?
Caroline: Stage four, as you rightly said, is also metastatic cancer. It just means that the cancer has spread from its original location into other organs. For me, I have cancer that began in the bowel. I had a number of polyps, which are small growths found in my colon, which is the lower part of your bowel, three years ago. That was kind of the start of my cancer journey.
At the time, we thought that they were only pre-cancerous. It turns out that was probably not the case unfortunately. I had a couple of small operations, but I was otherwise considered fine until last year, when I started suffering from a bad back which, to cut a very long story short, turned out to be a tumor in my spine. When I had various scans, it was also discovered that I had cancer in my lungs, in my liver, my pelvis, and in various lymph nodes. What had started in my bowel—they discovered that, through biopsies and through tests of the tumor cells—had spread to various spaces, and that’s what made it stage four.
Interestingly, I don’t have any tumors in my bowel, which stumps everybody, but that’s just one of the examples of how strange this cancer is, I’m afraid.
Joseph: I know that prognosis is a really funny word because nothing is definitive when it comes to cancer, but can you share what the prognosis is here for you, especially as it relates to your stage four bowel cancer, or at least what you have been told?
Caroline: The prognosis for stage four bowel cancer is very poor. Five-year survival rates are well under 10%, but there’s a couple of things to say about that. You’ve already alluded to it. Prognosis is an odd thing because all the doctors can do is look at averages, and there is nothing average about my situation to be honest. The majority of bowel cancer patients are over 70. You have to think that when you’re over 70, your life expectancy is not too long anyway, so being young is a positive for the start.
Secondly, everybody just responds so differently to treatment. We didn’t know whether chemotherapy was going to work for me, but actually, it’s working superbly. At my last scan, all but one of my tumors had shrunk. If treatment hadn’t worked, my life expectancy last year was 6 to 12 months, but it’s kind of irrelevant because treatment is working. It’s very much now ‘how long is a piece of string.’
My view is I feel well most of the time. Chemo is very hard, but between chemo, I feel very well. I just live life like today. None of us know what’s around the corner, so I try my best not to focus on what might happen but just to focus on what I can control and what I can do today.
Joseph: You mentioned that the majority of people who have this are in their 70s. We should point out that you’re actually in your early 30s.
Caroline: Yup, that’s right. I’m 34.
Joseph: We’re going to come back to this, Caroline. I’d like to get into more detail about your cancer and how it’s affected your career perspectives, but I’d like to start by talking about your career journey, which is the focus of this show. You haven’t always been a nutritionist. You did allude to the time you were at Deutsche Bank as an investment banker. Can we go back to that time, and can you just explain what you used to do during your days as an associate at Deutsche Bank? Then we’ll move forward from there.
Caroline: I started Deutsche Bank straight out of university. I did internship, and then I went on to the graduate program, starting as analyst. In time, I was promoted to associates. I worked in a division called corporate broking, which is equity advisory for UK corporates specifically.
We used to have set clients. We had an ongoing relationship, and we would help them with anything to do with the equity market. It would be everything from investor roadshows and results to transactions. If they were doing a merger, if they were doing equity issue, we would be involved in this sort of investor market-facing side of that.
It was a very hands-on, client-facing role. We worked closely with the mergers and acquisitions and the equity capital markets teams and the debt side as well.
As an analyst and associate, you spend a lot of your time writing pitch works, but I was lucky that I could go to a lot of client routines as well. I used to go on investor roadshows. I had a lot of face-to-face time with the clients, which was always for me probably the most enjoyable part.
Joseph: I know that investment banking has got to be at least traditionally seen as one of the most premier, high-profile industries out there which I know attracts a lot of people to the industry. After about five years, you mentioned you decided to leave. What made you want to leave that industry behind?
Caroline: It certainly had a reputation as one of the best industries to get into. Out of university, it’s what everybody was rushing to do. The starting salary was good. It was glamorous and exciting to a lot of extent, but it is very hard work. I mean my hours were very, very long. I was in it 7:30 in the morning because we got in before markets open, and I frequently worked until kind of 11 to 12 o’clock at night.
It’s hard. It’s hard to have a life when you’re doing that all the time. You physically and emotionally burn out. You don’t get to see your friends very much. I’m constantly having to cancel things. I find it very hard to date. All of these things add up.
For me, although I did enjoy the work a lot—and I would actually go and do it again. I wouldn’t change how I started my career, but—I always knew that the time would come when I wanted to leave and do something that was a bit more flexible, a bit more sustainable.
One of my clients, Xstrata, approached me, and they were looking for a new investor relations manager, which essentially was the internal version of my role at the bank. I knew the role very, very well. I knew the person who’s doing it. I got along with him very well.
It was a company I absolutely loved. I had a huge amount of respect for the team there. It was a very young company. It had grown from very little very fast. They were constantly doing transactions, mergers, acquisitions, raising equity, buying new mines, big projects. It was a very global business. I jumped at the chance when they approached me and asked if I was interested in joining the company.
Joseph: Was that a difficult decision for you to leave behind, at least on the surface, the perceived more glamorous world of iBanking to focus much more on investor relations? What was hard about that?
Caroline: There were definitely challenges involved. I think the harder thing for me was making the decision that now is the time to leave. I’d actually already made that decision when Xstrata approached me. The fact that they approached me and they came up with this very attractive role, which it was well-paid, there was a lot of global travel, there were different perks to investment banking, made it much, much easier actually.
I think I’d been struggling to work out, if I left investment banking, what I was going to do. As you said, there was definitely a reticence in taking potentially a salary cut or doing something that was maybe more mundane, so I was really lucky that I didn’t have to do that. I didn’t take a salary cut, and I was doing something that actually, day-to-day, I found even more exciting than I had found investment banking.
Joseph: You’re there at Xstrata, it sounds like things are going really well for you. It seems like you enjoyed the work. What happened?
Caroline: Not that long after I joined—it was two years after I joined—Xstrata were bought out by their majority shareholder, a company called Glencore. There was an option to go to Glencore. I would’ve had to move to Switzerland, which I was totally open to doing. I definitely considered staying with the new company, but the CEO and CFO decided they weren’t going to. It had started as a merger, and then it became increasingly hostile as it went on. They decided they wanted to make a move, and they asked me to join them to set up their new venture, which was then called X2 Resources.
One of the reasons I’d moved to Xstrata was because I liked the team, and I absolutely jumped at the chance. I’m very well with the CEO. I found him to be an exceptional individual, very entrepreneurial, very forward-thinking, and I was really excited by the chance to stay and work with that team and do something of our own. I felt like I had no reason not to. I had no ties. I didn’t have a family at the time, and this was just an opportunity that was only ever going to come along once in a lifetime, so I jumped at it.
It was amazing. I mean I learned how to build a business very, very fast. There were six of us in the end. The others were very senior people from Xstrata. We raised over $5 billion, which was a phenomenal amount of money.
The challenge is banking, because unfortunately, the market didn’t go the way we thought. We thought we were at the bottom, and we were going to be able to take the upside. X2 did actually get folded. I’d already left by that point, but it was a real shame because it was a really exciting journey and a great idea. The timing just wasn’t right unfortunately.
Joseph: You mentioned you left before they folded. Can you take me back to what happened with regards to your health at that moment? What was happening for you at that time?
Caroline: In spring of 2016, I had a colonoscopy, which is where they put a camera inside you and have a look, because I’d had some very severe irritable bowel syndromes, bowel issues, noticing blood. I’m very open about these things. I think it’s really important for people to raise awareness and for people to be aware of these symptoms. It’s not something that’s the most fun thing to talk about, but that’s what was happening inside after some investigation.
They found a tumor. It was bleeding, which was why there was blood. Luckily, it wasn’t obstructing my bowel, but it was fairly large. I had operation to remove that and a number of other polyps which are small growths. They were all tested, and it was a very scary time. I mean I will never ever forget that moment when I came out of that first colonoscopy, and the doctor sat me down and said, “I’m really sorry, but we think you’ve got cancer.
I was 31, and I was in brilliant health. I used to run marathons. I went to the gym all the time. I thought I ate well. It was a huge shock to be honest. The tests all came back and showed that they were precancerous, which means that there were some abnormal changes in the cell growth, but it wasn’t full-blown cancer. The doctors were very confident that just taking them out was the end. They didn’t need to do anything else.
Unfortunately, I really should’ve been put on a cancer pathway, and they should’ve done more investigations, but I was just so much an exception to the rule. I was young. Bowel cancer in young people is very rare. It’s less than 2% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are under 40, and I was such a healthy person in so many other ways. I don’t blame anybody for missing something. It’s very unfortunate, but it is what it is.
What it did was made me kind of sit back and go, ‘Hang on. I need to reprioritize my life a little bit,’ and I asked the really big questions: What do I want from life? What’s making me happy? What makes my unhappy? What can I do about it?
Although I absolutely loved what I’d done with X2, it was clear that things weren’t going that well for the company. I started to think about what I might want to do next. I’d also got married, and we wanted to have a family. I knew that the job I was doing, I was constantly on an airplane. I had to fly back from Australia after 48 hours to get to my home-do. It was a full-on job, and I knew that wasn’t sustainable for me for the long term, so I started thinking about what else I might want to do.
At the same time, with the health scare, I was always very interested in food. I’d actually already had a food blog that was just a bit of a hobby. I started looking a lot more into nutrition and into qualifications about it.
Originally, I just wanted to do a course that would increase my knowledge to help me look after myself and ensure that I looked after my bowel and my issues didn’t return. The more I looked into it, the more I thought, ‘Actually, this is a really growing sector and something that I’m really interested in. I think I can make a career off it.’
I enrolled at the College of Naturopathic Medicine, which is in Central London, to study as a nutritional therapist for the next few years. It was part-time. Initially, I thought I could maybe do my job and study, and it very quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to happen.
The opportunity came to walk away from X2 Resources. It was a really hard decision at the time. I didn’t want to step away from this thing that I’d been part of from the beginning and had a very strong emotional attachment to, but I knew that I had to make a change, and it was the right thing to do at the time. It was quite scary.
Joseph: I was wondering, to what extent did the initial cancer diagnosis influence your decision to walk away from X2?
Caroline: Hugely, because it was the thing that made me question what I wanted in the longer term. I realized that the industry I was in and the role I was in wasn’t what I wanted longer term. The cancer diagnosis made my husband and I sit down and go, ‘Actually, we really want a family, and we want a family now—we’re not that young—and I need to find a job that is going to be more amenable to that and more flexible for the future.’
Joseph: Before we talk about what happened to you last September—you mentioned family—what was happening for you during this time when you were making the shift out of X2, related to starting your own family?
Caroline: In the end, I left X2, started college, and got pregnant in the space of three weeks. It was quite a big month for me, that one. Once I made the decision that I was going to start studying nutrition, and even before I left X2, my husband and I decided we start trying for a baby because we decided that was what was important and worked out what I was going to do.
It worked quite exactly, but I knew I’d signed up for this course. I knew I was going to start studying. I knew that in three years’ time, I would be a rather qualified therapist. I had this longer-term plan. I didn’t really know what I was going to do in the interim, but I just knew that priorities were shifting, and actually, getting pregnant happened fairly quickly for us, which is brilliant.
Joseph: It sounds like a ton happened to you in 2016. You had that initial cancer scare, which at least according to the doctors, were precancerous polyps that were cleared. You left X2. You got pregnant. I know a couple of years later, you got another diagnosis, which we’re going to get to. Before we talk about that, what was your life like after this initial health scare and after you left the corporate world?
Caroline: Last September, it was when I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Just to cover those two years, this was autumn 2016. I started college. I left X2. I was doing odd, little bits of freelance work, but I kind of was giving myself a break as well. I was totally exhausted to be honest. I think 10 years of city and corporate careers had really taken that toll.
Also, the shock and the emotional impact of the original precancerous diagnosis, even the operations aside, I think the emotional side of it hit me when I stopped. When I realized I was pregnant, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to take a really extended maternity leave. I’m going to enjoy pregnancy. I’m going to enjoy studying. I’m going to have a baby. When the baby’s born, I will then work out what I want to do getting back into work properly.’
I was really lucky, very lucky, because financially, I was able to do that, and I was really able to get stuck in college and spend time on it, which is brilliant. I was learning so much. Studying biomedicine whilst pregnant was fascinating because I was learning about what was going on in my body, and I was eating really well because I was learning a lot about what I needed to do to fill my body properly. That was all amazing.
I had a very healthy pregnancy, a very healthy birth. When my son was nine-months old, I started suffering from back aches. That was a year ago, beginning of 2018. I didn’t think too much of it for quite a while, but it got more and more severe to the point that I was in total agony all of the time and couldn’t move.
I finally had an MRI, and it showed that one of my vertebrae had collapsed. I was whisked into A&E at the Royal London, where I stayed up to 10 days while they did lots and lots of investigations and tried to work out what was going on. They eventually discovered that it was a tumor, and I had cancer, and then all the cancer investigation started.
Last autumn was a whirlwind quite frankly – being in and out of hospital, lots and lots of tests, major spinal surgery because they had to correct where my spine had collapsed. I now have 12 metal pins in my spine. Then radiotherapy on the spine to take the tumor down, and then I started chemotherapy, which I’ve been on ever since.
Yes, quite a lot to deal with, but I’ve managed to keep going with college pretty much. I think it had been a time which had been good. It’s kept me sane in some ways.
Joseph: I know that there’s probably no way to convey this in words or to do this justice, but can you explain what exactly ran through your head when you were definitively diagnosed with cancer?
Caroline: I don’t know if I can. I think my head was just buzzing for about a month. I mean it happened in so many different parts. I was told it was cancer after I’d had this stint in the hospital, and my husband immediately went into shock.
For me, it didn’t come as an enormous surprise because of my history. I mean it did and it didn’t. Nobody wants to be told you’ve got stage four cancer obviously, and it was a shock, but I think for me, there was almost relief because I’d been in so much pain for so long, it kind of felt, ‘Wow, we’ve got an answer. We can actually start doing something about it.’
I knew enough about cancer that my assumption was there’s so many different ways to treat cancer, even stage four cancer. Let’s crack on, and we can do this. I’m healthy in so many ways. I’m going to be fine. It was only a few weeks later that I was told, actually, this cancer isn’t curable, and I really started looking into the details about bowel cancer and the stats and so on. I think that’s when I got more of a shock.
It was really hard. I mean being told that you have a poor prognosis and you’re terminally ill at 34 with a baby is an impossible situation to be put in. It’s really, really hard, but I’m a naturally very positive person, and I started writing about my journey. I started a blog which was hugely therapeutic to me and helpful for a lot of my friends and family as well. Really, I started it purely to get my head around what was going on.
I feel lucky that I have a lot of knowledge about the body and basic medical knowledge because that really helped me understand what was going on and be able to speak to doctors.
Whilst my prognosis hasn’t changed—I am still incurable—the fact that chemo is working well so far, and I feel pretty well—I don’t feel terminally ill. I go out for runs. I’m studying college. I look after my baby. It’s had lasting impacts. I’ve lost a lot of function of my hands because of the spinal tumor, so I’ve had to relearn how to do certain things. I can’t write perfectly. I can’t hold a pen. Things like that have been very difficult, but I’ve adapted, and I’ve learnt new ways of doing things.
It’s a struggle at times, don’t get me wrong. I have my moments where I break down in tears and go, ‘It’s not fair,’ and, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but most of the time, I pick myself up and I go, ‘I’ve got a really great life, and I’ve got a lot going for me, and so I’m going to enjoy that. I’m going to live it today.’
Joseph: I would imagine that wrestling with this can take you in one of a couple of directions. One is that you feel enormously down, and it sounds like you have had those moments. The other direction is that it actually empowers you in some way. How have you been able to maintain such a positive outlook? What do you think it is about you that allows you to feel empowered and to feel so positive in spite of the time you’re going through right now?
Caroline: I think there’s a couple of things. Firstly, I think it’s because I’ve had three years to prepare myself for this. Because I had that initial diagnosis, it made me sit back and ask a lot of questions and put my life on a track that I really wanted it to be on. The past three years had been about me switching from a very career-driven, very busy, very stressed, not unhappy but a very stressed person, to someone who has pretty much everything they want in life.
I mean I really do. I have an amazing son. He’s just awesome. I have a wonderful husband. We have a lovely house. I am studying, which I really enjoy. I’m on track to do a career, which I genuinely think I could do for the rest of my life. It will be flexible. There are so many directions I could take it in. It’s an area I’m fascinated in. I am so lucky in so many ways, and I’ve done and achieved so much in life, which I’m very proud of.
I think also, I’m not sitting here going, ‘Oh my god, I want to do this. I need to do that. I’ve never done this.’ Of course there are things I want to do, but I feel like I’ve done so much that I’m in a very balanced place, and that just really helps me enjoy every day.
Cancer has just become a part of my life. At the moment, I’m in a good routine with treatments, and I know that I have four or five days a fortnight where I feel, quite frankly, rough, and I just have to sit in the sofa and watch Netflix and, hey, you know what? It’s kind of fun sometimes doing that. It’s just something I wouldn’t have been able to do three years ago because I would never have given myself that down time. I’ve had to learn to take things slower, which has been a real challenge for me.
On the days I feel good, then you’re right. I feel very empowered, and I really embrace that in the moment, and I’m like, ‘I know what I want to do, and I only do things that I enjoy or that make me better. I don’t do things that I don’t want to do or that make me miserable, because life quite frankly is too short.’
Joseph: It’s funny. I was giving a talk last week, Caroline, at London Business School to some alumni about career change, and one of the things that someone in the audience asked me that I think I didn’t have a very good answer to is ‘in the absence of something major, like cancer or a health diagnosis or a death in your family, how do you force yourself to stop and reevaluate whether you’re heading in the right direction you want to be heading in your career and your life?’ What thoughts do you have on how you can create some stopping power in your life to ensure you’re taking the time, it sounds like you’ve taken, to recalibrate?
Caroline: It’s such a good question. You’re absolutely right. It’s too easy to just head down, plow on, and not stop and take the time to ask these questions.
My first post on my blog is my background, and I wrote down those questions that I asked myself. I say to people, I say to all my friends, ‘Please, just sit down and ask yourself the big questions. What do you want? What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What can you do about it? Just spend a day thinking about those if that’s all you’ve got, just one day thinking about those, and it might change the rest of your life.’ So many of my friends have said, me being ill has put things in perspective for them, and they have started asking those questions, and I think that’s wonderful.
It’s so hard because there are always constraints. I was very lucky. I did 10 years in well-paid jobs, so financially, I was able to take some time out to think about this. For a lot of people, that’s an enormous constraint. They can’t stop. They can’t just quit their job, because they can’t afford to, and I completely get that. There isn’t really an answer to that, but it’s the more you can try and step back and go and take yourself on a holiday or take yourself away for a long weekend purely to think about the big things.
It doesn’t mean everybody has to go and quit their career straight away. It might be much, much smaller tweaks that you need to make, but I think you have to have a bigger picture.
One thing somebody said to me when I was first diagnosed was, imagine yourself in 5 or 10 years’ time and your ideal life. What’s it look like? Where are you? What are you doing? Then think about what you can do right now to make that happen. Don’t wait for 5 or 10 years. Start doing things now that mean that that will be a reality. That’s what I started doing three years ago, so I’m already in a good place there, but I think it’s really good advice actually. What are you doing towards a bigger picture?
Joseph: That’s a good segue, Caroline, into a few of the things I was hoping we could talk about—before we wrap up with what you’re focused on right now with your nutrition work—which are some of the things that you’ve learned along the way of not only your career change journey but also your cancer journey.
I know that some people who listen to this show sometimes are going through tough times, mostly related to their jobs but also related to other aspects of their lives outside of work. In your case, you’re battling cancer, you’ve just come out of a heart surgery, you’re a relatively new mother with a toddler at home, and yet you still manage to stay productive. I’m curious, what things used to consume you in your career that no longer really concern you?
Caroline: The little things just don’t bother me anymore. I just won’t get stressed about something that doesn’t really matter. I think when I was in banking and then at Xstrata and X2, I could get really bogged down with the minutiae and really stressed about something which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t that important.
The one thing that I found made me very unhappy in work when I was asking myself the big questions was politics, politics within work. I was very lucky because there was very little about it, almost none of that in X2, really. I think I saw a lot more of it in banking, and to a certain amount, in Xstrata, purely because it was a big business. When there’s lots of people, you’re always going to get a certain amount of it. It’s something I couldn’t stand and would upset me a lot.
I was a young woman working in a very male-dominated environment my whole career. Nutrition is quite a shock because it’s almost all women, and I found that very challenging at times. It used to bother me a lot. It’s not to say that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but I’ve just taken myself out of that picture, and that’s not going to be the solution for everybody.
One thing that actually really help me when I was at X2, I had some career coaching with a very senior female ex-lawyer actually, and she really helped me see the bigger picture with some of these things. I think if you can take yourself out of the situation in some ways, if there are things like that that are bothering you, and talk to somebody who is outside of it, I think it can be hugely beneficial.
Joseph: Having gone through your career changes and now having to battle stage four cancer, what’s something that you’ve come to realize that perhaps you wish you would’ve realized earlier either about your career or your life?
Caroline: I think it’s just realizing what your priorities are. I don’t actually think there’s anything that I think I wish I’d realized earlier, because doing the big city career was the right thing. It had its down sides. I wasn’t always happy. I was often stressed, but looking back on it, I’m really proud that I did it. I do feel like I achieved a lot. Financially, it was a big benefit, so I’m in a position now to do something that’s not as financially driven. Although I wouldn’t say I was ever particularly financially driven in my 20s. I now appreciate it a lot.
I think you reprioritize as you get a bit older. For me, family and the people around me are the most important thing in the world. That will be the case in my personal life and in my work life forever now, because I just want to surround myself by the right people because they really change how you feel and how happy you are, I think, more than anything else.
Joseph: Definitely. I guess it takes me to a related question, and I’m not sure how to word this the best way, but I’d imagine that you feel the urgency and fragility of life a bit more than the average person out there, given your situation. Is there anything you feel you took for granted before that you no longer take for granted?
Caroline: I think we all take an awful lot for granted. I probably still take things for granted. Particularly when you’re young, you just assume that you have decades ahead.
A lot of the time, I would sort of put things off, ‘I would do this another time. I would do this next year,’ and whatever. On the other side of that, I would plan a long way ahead. It’s going to be like, ‘This is going to happen in maybe six months or two years,’ or whatever, and I don’t do that anymore. The thought of planning actually terrifies me now, whereas I’ve always been an intense planner, because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Last week was such a good example because I was feeling so good, and I was out for a run the day before I started feeling ill essentially. I had plans for the week and the weekend, and then suddenly, I end up in the hospital with something wrong with my heart. I didn’t think I had anything wrong with my heart.
Planning has become very difficult, but I actually struggled with that probably more than anything when I was first diagnosed. Now, I embrace it, because it’s not to say I don’t make plans. Of course I do. I plan to go out and see friends on Friday nights and short-term stuff, but I’m not freaking out anymore that I don’t have maybe a 5 or a 10-year plan. I don’t feel the need so much anymore because I just try and look for right now.
My husband and I had been planning to go to Venice forever. It’s just a small example, but it’s always been on our list. We never got around to going. When I was diagnosed, I was like, ‘Right, we’re going to Venice,’ and we had it booked within a week, because it’s something we wanted to do. Let’s get on and do it! Let’s not hang around – small things like that.
It doesn’t mean I’m not working towards bigger things. I’m still working towards my nutritional therapist qualification, which isn’t going to happen because I’ve had to delay various bits. I’m not going to be qualified for the best part of the year still. It doesn’t mean I give up on all plans, but I’m also not thinking, ‘Oh, well, my life’s only going to start once I’ve qualified.’ There are things I can do and I’m doing already within nutrition right now, because why not? Now is what I’ve got, so let’s embrace that.
Joseph: What have you learned about yourself in the past few months since receiving that second cancer diagnosis last year?
Caroline: I’ve learnt to become much more patient, and I’ve learnt that it’s okay to let go of control a little bit. I mean I was a total control freak. I still am to some extent, but I can’t be anymore. Something bigger has taken that away from me.
I’ve learnt that it’s okay not to have control, and the whole world won’t fall apart if everything isn’t being done in the way that I want it done and everything isn’t in the right place. If the washing up builds up for a bit, then it’s fine. The house isn’t going to fall down. I think I’ve discovered a slightly slower, gentler side of myself, which I guess it started to appear with motherhood as well. It’s a side that I’m nurturing a lot more in there.
It’s not to say the brisk, business side of me isn’t there. It still is, but I guess it’s been dampened down a little bit these days.
Joseph: I wasn’t going to ask you this. I do have a follow-up question on that because I’m also somebody who is a bit of a control freak or at least appreciates the idea of control. I’m wondering, now that you’ve relinquished that control a little bit, how has that gone for you? Because I guess I’m always concerned that everything’s going to fall apart. I’m just curious how that has transpired for you once you have let go of your grip on things a little bit.
Caroline: I think for me, it’s about working out what I can have control over and focusing on that. Partly for me, it’s timeframe. I can sit down first thing in the morning and write myself a to-do list, and the likelihood is I’ll get it done or that nothing’s going to stand in the way of me getting those things done. Whereas I can’t have control over what’s going to happen in six months, because quite frankly, I have no idea.
It’s changing what you can have control on and focusing on the things that you can control, because we all need control in a certain sense. I’m never going to be somebody who just drifts and never makes decisions, because that’s not me. I like to make decisions. I like to feel that I do have an element of control, but it’s learning that it’s okay not to have control over everything. It’s also learning to not freak out when things don’t go to plan.
Actually, I’ve been really proud of myself, how I’ve dealt with the past week, because the last time something not similar medically, but there was another spanner in the works in the treatment, and things all changed, I lost it. I completely freaked out. My chemo treatment was meant to start, and it had to be delayed a week for things that were outside of my control. I couldn’t cope, and I almost had a panic attack. I was so upset, and I was like, ‘I can’t deal with it. I can’t deal with this lack of control.’
Whereas over the past six months actually, I have learnt that it’s okay. Yes, last week messed things up and I’ve had some mistreatment and things have had to be rescheduled and so on, but it’s okay. It doesn’t matter. I’m still here. I still feel okay.
People understand. My friends are all amazing. I had to cancel last minute, and obviously, nobody holds it against me because it is what it is. It’s just accepting that it’s okay sometimes to let go.
Joseph: I’d like to wrap up—and not take up too much more of your time here, Caroline—with what you’re doing right now. Can you tell me a little bit more about Nutritious Living and the nutrition-focused cooking courses you’re now planning to run?
Caroline: As I said, I’m still studying in college. I’ve nearly finished the theory side, which is very exciting, but I still have to do a certain amount of clinical practice to be a nutritional therapist. Now that I have all my nutritional knowledge, I’m starting to do various things, including writing a number of books. One is already available as an e-book on my website about infant nutrition and cooking for families, and I’m writing a couple of others which are healthy-eating-focused. Those are very much work in progress.
In the summer, once I have finished all the theory at college, I’m going to be starting some nutritional cooking courses, teaching people some very basics of nutrition as it applies in the kitchen or in the home. Together, we also will cook healthy dishes so that you get a little bit of a repertoire of some new recipes with ingredients perhaps that you wouldn’t think to use straightaway. That’s going to be starting in the summer.
I’m also going to be running one specifically for cancer patients I hope, because I want to give something back to other people who are in this fairly horrible situation. Cancer is not nice, and it’s a lot to deal with. I think nutrition is increasingly being focused on even by oncologists and other people in the traditional, allopathic, orthodox medicine, but it’s still an area where a lot of people don’t have that much knowledge. The more I can spread the word on eating healthily and what you can perhaps do to support your body, the better.
You can find everything about that on my website, which is NutritiousLiving.co.uk, and then also on Instagram as Nutritious.Living, which is where I have most of my day-to-day interaction.
Joseph: We will definitely make sure that we include a link to your website in the show notes. I just wanted to thank you so much, Caroline, for taking the time to speak with me today, especially because of everything that happened last week. I wasn’t sure if we were going to get a chance to do this when I heard that you’re having heart surgery.
I really appreciate you telling us more about your career evolution and the impact that cancer has had on your outlook on life. I just want to commend you for your positivity and bravery during this time, which is really an inspiration for me and I’m sure everyone listening to this.
I wish you the very best in your ongoing battle with cancer, NutritiousLiving, and the books you’re writing, along with those nutrition courses you’re planning to run for other cancer patients. I hope to cross paths with you again soon.
Caroline: Thank you so much, Joseph. It’s been great to speak to you.