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Entering a Life Crisis at Work


Brenda Head Scan

On August 21, 2018, I had an MRI, and at 8:01 the next morning I got a call from the doctor’s office. “We have your results and would like to review them with you. When can you come in?” I couldn’t go in until the afternoon, and the entire day I convinced myself they reviewed scans with all their patients. If that were only the case.

“We found a tumor.”

Dreadful words no one wants to hear. Disbelief. Shock. Worry. Fear. It’s all-consuming.

I had a golf ball-sized vestibular schwannoma, a type of acoustic neuroma located deep in my inner left ear. My tumor was so large it was putting an intense amount of unwanted pressure on my brain stem and brain. Though not life threatening (yet), it was a dangerous tumor. The next six weeks were packed with doctor’s appointments and preparation for the looming eight-hour brain surgery and subsequent recovery. These six weeks were also packed with a rollercoaster of emotions — as you might be able to imagine. I worried about a lot of things.

Thankfully, one thing I never had to worry about was my job.

At the time of my diagnosis I had been employed at MarketStar for seven years. On the surface, MarketStar has great medical benefits and an amazing short-term disability leave benefit. I was able to tap into FMLA and know that my position was protected. Because of my employment tenure, I was also able to maximize FMLA at 100% my salary. What an extreme relief! A solid short-term disability benefit is not to be undervalued. To those encountering an unplanned life crisis, it is incredibly valuable. I cannot stress that enough.

However, more important than awesome benefits, is being surrounded by a team of leaders and coworkers I am lucky enough to call “friends.” Early on, I confided in my manager, Justin Nalder. Believe me, I cried a lot in his office. He supported me as I spent weeks at the doctors trying to figure out what this issue was. He had my back, and I knew it. When it was time, we informed the team and leadership and planned for my medical leave.

All my teammates and friends at work cried with me, showered me with notes and letters of love and encouragement, flowers, gifts, and more support that I could ever imagine. This might sound like I’m exaggerating, but it’s the truth. And I needed it. I needed to know that I had this army of workplace champions behind me as I had to fight through and overcome THE hardest thing I’ve ever done. It provided me with additional strength to help sustain me.

My operation was on October 2, 2018. The operation left me permanently deaf in my left ear. My vestibular (balance) nerve was also removed, leaving me unable to stand, walk, or do basic functions without assistance. My head literally felt like a 500-pound balloon. These side effects lasted for weeks until the swelling subsided and my brain could retrain itself how to balance again. I also experienced facial paralysis. This is always the big “unknown” in the type of surgery I had. Sometimes the facial nerve heals and movement returns, sometimes it’s a partial restoration, and sometimes it doesn’t heal at all. It can take months for the nerve to heal, and not knowing the outcome of what my new reality would be was emotional, frustrating, painful, and discouraging. I was fortunate to have most of the movement in my face return.

While I was in the hospital and at home recovering, I had multiple visitors and friends come see me. Many of them were my coworkers. At one point a handful of people from the talent team came to visit, and it was so fun. We told stories, laughed, and it lit up my day. Every few weeks, I would get more flowers delivered. I knew that everyone cared about me, and I was not forgotten.

It was ten weeks before I returned to work. As I returned, everyone was so welcoming and caring. More notes, hugs, and love surrounded me. Again, I relied on Justin as we worked out my ramp back to productivity. He was nicer to me than I was to myself. I didn’t realize that it was going to take months before I would feel 100% again. I expected to feel better than I did. The truth was, I wasn’t ready. I was allowed the space and time I needed to get back to feeling normal again. Justin — and I would say all of MarketStar — were patient with me as I truly healed. I wasn’t pushed beyond my capabilities, and after brain surgery, that’s pretty important.

A year ago, I didn’t know if I would ever work at capacity again. With support and encouragement of those around me, I fought through my challenges, and today feel like I’m stronger than ever. I have exceeded expectations and enjoy the work I do in leading the MarketStar brand into its next phase of growth.

At MarketStar, we are blessed. Here, leaders care, and everyone is treated as an individual, not just a job to get done. I believe it is understood that we all will experience a life crisis — a medical emergency for ourselves or a family member, a death of a loved one, or any number of things. My story is only one of many. The stories of MarketStar employees that have been through incredible challenges and been backed by their leaders and work family is inspiring.

Even though my situation was traumatic and extreme, it was an incredible experience to learn firsthand how much we deeply care about each other at MarketStar. It’s easily one of my favorite things about working here.

At MarketStar, we’re family.