On Thursday morning I woke up with pain in my left breast.

I had been ignoring it for a few weeks… just too much caffeine, I thought.

But rolling over in bed that morning hurt too much to ignore, so I did an examination.

The lump was undeniable. My mind started racing. How am I going to get this checked out during a pandemic?

I took a deep breath, tried to remain calm (easier said than done for any of us these days), and called my doctor.

Thankfully, they had an opening in just a couple of hours.

While I was counting my blessings, I also dreaded having to go into a doctor’s office. It’s uncomfortable enough going to a grocery store—the tension is real.

So I was open to reality and focused on how deeply thankful I was that they were there. I especially appreciated the fun faces some medical staff had on their masks… it helped to lighten the mood, for sure.

After learning some interesting data—turns out caffeine really can cause breast pain, and so does anxiety (including the pandemic-induced kind)—I put the gown on.

“I really think this is just a cyst, but you should go across the street and get a mammogram. They should be able to get you in today.”

They did. Another miracle.

After several tests, the doctor still didn’t know what it was. “You need to have a biopsy,” she said.

Gigga what!?

Before she said those words, I felt like everything was okay. The pain and lump were just from too much caffeine, right?

One anxious hour later, I was on the surgeon’s table as he prepared to do the biopsy.

He told me he wasn’t worried. “Your images are boring,” he joked before getting started.

I was beyond confused—why was I having to go through this if everything looked boring?—but I trusted this man. There was something about him.

Thirty minutes later it was done. I was shaking as I tried to sit up and tuck an ice pack in my bra.

I hadn’t eaten, and I was exhausted from all this fear.

The nurse brought me a nutrigrain bar and a bottle of water, then she took me to see the surgeon.

At 74 years of age, and a cancer survivor, he is at high risk of serious complications should he contract Covid-19.

In that moment, though, as he saw me shaking and noticed the bar his nurse gave me, he lowered his mask and said, “Oh that just won’t do.”

He pulled out a protein bar, which I immediately dug into.

Sitting across from me, he cracked open a soda, and leaned back. In that moment, he looked like a friend… like I mattered to him. Suddenly I felt like I had permission to express my truth. No more trying to keep my shit together.

I burst into tears.

“This wouldn’t be so difficult if it weren’t for all that’s happening in the world right now,” I said.

“Makes sense,” he said gently. “I’m scared too. I keep waking up at 3am. This is all so uncertain. We’ll get through this together.”

I was blown away by how authentic he was in that moment… how vulnerable he allowed himself to be.

At the same time, he was focused on the facts and on making sure I understood what was going on. This wasn’t fake comfort.

I exhaled and felt that, somehow, everything would be okay.

If everyone had leaders this transparent, brave, and encouraging, the whole world could exhale too.

This is not a time to strive to be tough for others.

It’s a time to be real with others, to give them space (not just physical!) when they need it, and to remind them that they are not alone.

It’s a time to lean In, listen, honor people where they are, share your Truth, and connect.

At 5:17pm the next night, I got a call from my surgeon…

“Your breast tissue is healthy.”

I wanted to hug this man… for so many reasons. What a shining example of authentic leadership.

As Dr. Brene Brown said, “If you’re not showing up vulnerably as a leader, you can’t expect anyone to follow you.” That’s especially true today.

Thank you, Dr. S. I will appreciate you forever!

By the way, I did hug him… virtually! I believe he felt it too.

What would happen in your business, in your home, and in your career if you allowed for such authentic connection? Here’s a hint: trust, innovation, and collaboration.

Take this step today… decide to lead from authenticity, courage, and faith. We need it now more than ever.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister
Your Difficult Conversations Are My Business

For nearly two decades, Misti Burmeister has worked with leaders to solve people problems, increasing productivity and collaboration across generations.