At the end of my story, I’m going to ask you to say yes 

In December 1992, I came home to visit my family and weighed a whopping 89 pounds. I assured my worried mother that it was just a stomach flu. Not buying it, my parents drove me straight to the doctor where I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This would morph into Crohn’s Disease and begin my journey with a chronic illness. 

Rachael wearing mask with a stuffed animal while laying in hospital bed

In 2004, I applied for a job at Cisco. After my second interview, my disease flared, and I was hospitalized. I just knew that I had lost my chance at a dream job, however, the recruiter called me and said, “You have impressed the team and they want to wait for you.I immediately knew this was a special place. Once I recovered and finished the process I was hired! As with any new job, I was so excited to start, but what I didn’t know was how truly lifechanging and special the journey would be.  

In fact, I credit the Cisco family for helping save my life.  

As with every person out there, 2020 was a year that changed lives, challenged us, and paused regular healthcare regimens. For me, this meant that my yearly colonoscopy (yes, you read that rightyearly!) would be paused. In June, my doctor called to tell me that the surgery center was back open and offered me a slot that Thursday (moved up from September) for my 25th procedure. I agreed, as I just wanted to check this off my to do list. 

As they wheeled me in, I joked with the doctor that I could probably just do it myself at this point. Being the good sport that he is, he simply said, “Maybe next time! As I woke up, my doctor was sitting at the foot of my bed. His face was different from all the other times. He said that something looked off and he would get an extra set of eyes to review the biopsy.  

On June 23, 2020, my doctor called. Over video, I saw his face and said, “Just tell me, it’s cancer, right?”  His face changed and he said, “Yes, I’m so sorry.  It is cancer.” I immediately went into project management mode to determine the next steps.  

THE GOAL: get this out of my body.   

The next month, a gifted surgeon tried to remove the cancer. When I woke up a lovely nurse held my hand. I asked, “Did he get it out?” She squeezed my hand and said, “No honey, I’m so sorry, it’s gone through the rectal wall.” 

During my entire 17 years at Cisco, I gave each role my everything. Each leader I’ve had the honor to partner with has supported, encouraged, and empowered me in my professional career and in my personal journey. Upon learning of my cancer diagnosis, my leader, Jay Roberts doubled down his support and assured me that my Cisco family would be with me the whole way. Our People and Communities Leadership Team ensured that I had the right contacts at Stanford and Cisco resources at every turn. Each person helped bring clarity, speed and answers to me and my family when we needed them most. They gave me time that was essential in this fight.   

My Cisco family stepped up to send my children birthday gifts, send my family meals and words of support. For inspiration, I asked each of my colleagues to send their favorite song. Thanks to my best friend and business partner, Nicole Henke, my Cisco Family playlist was born and is my favorite to this day. I finally had everything I needed to go to surgery and get rid of the cancer.  

On August 13, 2020 at 7:30amPST, I was rolled into surgery at Stanford Hospital. Prior to going in, I sat in pre-op with my headphones on. The last song I heard before my 5-hour surgery to remove my entire colon was, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and I was brave.   

I awoke to a new world, filled with new opportunities for health and happiness. My cancer was removed at stage 1 with no chemotherapy needed. I joined the more than almost 1 million people in the US with an ostomy. If I had hesitated and decided to wait to have my colonoscopy that September, the cancer would have spread, and this would be a different story. Many people ask me if I’m sad about losing my colon and living life with an ostomy. The answer is always, no way!  I do more than I have ever done!  I ride my bike, swim, go walking…the sky is the limit!  Honestly, I haven’t found anything I can’t do! 

In late August, actor Chadwick Boseman died at age 43 of colon cancer. It was the moment when I finally cried, and I cried a lot. “What could have been” finally hit me – and it hit hard. Join a WebEx with me and you will see that I have a framed photo of Chadwick hanging in my office. It serves as a reminder to never ever feel sorry for myself. Chadwick represented someone doing good in this world and he left far too soon. Thanks to my ostomy, I am alive and can give back in some small measure. What I don’t have time for is self-pity – there’s still so much to do. 

Being part of the Cisco family gives me the chance to be part of what is good in the world. I am thankful for the support I received and honored to be at Cisco. I promise to pay it forward at every turn. 

Remember at the start of this story when I asked you to just say yes? Well here’s the question: Will you call your doctor right now and get your colonoscopy scheduled?  This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – say, “Yes” now.  (Seriously, do it!) 


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Rachael Chambers

Director, Strategy and Planning

People and Communities