On my first day at Cisco, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I spent my time onboarding, learning the tools, processes and procedures, becoming part of a project management team, and getting to know my coworkers. I even joined the Connected Black Professionals Inclusive Community, which some of my closest coworkers were members of. I felt a part of the Cisco family from Day One. In just a few months, my manager was already having discussions with me about my next career move. Wait, what? I just got here.
Five months later, time completely stopped when I heard, “Ms. Williams, I am so sorry to inform you that you have been diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer.”
Once I got past the first night of crying, I realized I would lose my job with this diagnosis. I was an emotional wreck. I was so afraid to tell my manager about my diagnosis because I knew I would get terminated. I even started looking for other financial options.
Well, to my surprise, my discussion with my manager went completely opposite to my expectations. He said, “You are in a battle for your life right now. You have a lot of things to worry about, but your job is not one of them.”
He also told me about and encouraged me to utilize the medical benefit that allows us to get a second opinion. I was able to see another doctor in Boston without even leaving my house. She reviewed my documents, answered all my questions, and made me feel secure.
And that’s when my Cisco family stepped in and stepped up for me.
I spent the entire year of 2019 in treatment, including two major surgeries. In the beginning, my oncologists said I could not work because the chemo was so harsh, but I couldn’t let cancer beat me. So, my manager and I compromised, and I worked on one project.
My team checked on me daily. “How are you feeling today? Is there anything that you need?”
As a project manager, it’s my job to make sure everything stays on track, but there were times when I didn’t want my clients to see me bald from the chemo, or the side effects from the medication were too much, or I was in treatment, and my team got on flights, went to in-person meetings, and took on what I couldn’t. They jumped in so seamlessly and selflessly; even people I worked with at Cisco didn’t know I was sick.
And Connected Black Professionals (CBP) members surrounded me with genuine Cisco love. They kept me going with their calls, texts, flowers, and visits. It was the little things, too. The articles they sent for me to read and the exercises they shared that might help my recovery. The women I was closest with even brought me groceries and took me to my treatments. There were days I couldn’t see the end of the rainbow — I couldn’t see myself today — and they got me through them. The emotional support? Oh, they gave it to me.
Three years later, I’m still shocked I received this type of support and have a tremendous amount of love and loyalty to Cisco. My CBP family still checks in on my kids and me. I’m taking on more challenging projects, and those career growth and future plan talks with my manager are back on track.
I know why Cisco is voted #1 Best Workplace in the U.S. — this culture can’t be duplicated. I wear my Cisco shirts with pride! This is home, and we are family.
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