In our inaugural “Inspiring Mums” interview, we talk to one of the most incredible mums in our community – Rachelle Gebert.
In 2016, Rachelle was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. As devastating as her diagnosis was, Rachelle has drawn on her experience and shared her story publicly to raise awareness and support for people like herself – including her role as an ambassador for Pink Hope’s Bright Pink Lipstick Day. Not only is she an inspiration to the JustMums team, she also has some great advice for all mums including putting yourself first, congratulating yourself more and criticising yourself less.
Tell us about yourself…
I will soon celebrate my ninth wedding anniversary with my husband, Damian – though we have been together for over 17 years. We have two young boys, Percy (6) and Morgan (4) and a fur-baby, Frankie – she is the girl and third baby that we couldn’t have.
In my former life, I studied for a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) at Swinburne University of Technology and backed this up with a Master of Multimedia. I can’t believe that is has been over 15 years since I graduated but I can still remember my student number! I have always worked in-house within the communications, marketing or community relations teams for a variety of industries including state government, health, civil construction and manufacturing. If you had asked me when I started out whether I saw myself working in these sectors, I would have thought “that’s not very glamorous” but I later realised that I have really enjoyed being immersed within a company, working on long-term projects and always improving communication with our target market or strengthening relationships with existing stakeholders. Looking back, my roles consistently feature a creative yet technical focus, encompassing: graphic design, desktop publishing, website/content development and maintenance, social media, photography, videography and copywriting.
In August 2016, I abruptly gave up my part-time role as a Communications Specialist because I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I assumed that my illness would result in a short break in my career due to treatment, surgeries, recovery and finally, remission. Unfortunately, my initial diagnosis was soon upgraded to Stage IV, or metastatic, breast cancer – it had spread beyond the breast to my lymph nodes and into my bones. My disease is treatable but cannot be cured, so at some point it will become life-threatening.
How did your cancer diagnosis affect the way you considered your career and work/life balance?
Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer really threw the work/life balance right out, in fact, it turned my whole life upside down. One day I was at work, I left early to meet my husband for my appointment at the hospital and never went back. I’m so lucky that I had such an understanding manager. I had told her about all the tests that I was having, even before my family, so she was completely in the loop and reassured me “health always comes first”.
I admire the people who can continue to work through illness but at the time, the myriad of appointments, physical pain, mental load, various cancer treatments and scans as well as medical menopause thrown in for good measure, meant that there was no way that I could feel like I would be performing well at work.
“My health and children had to take priority and unfortunately, I didn’t think I was doing a good job at that either”.
I mentally struggled during this time because I was mourning the loss of my profession. Before cancer, I felt like I was just getting my career back on track after the rollercoaster ride from full-time work to maternity leave to part-time work to maternity leave again and then back to part-time work, I kept looking forward and felt satisfied that I could continue to financially contribute to our household and maintain my independence through working – like my Mum had always taught me. Cancer took all of that away from me.
How do you think motherhood has affected your career outlook?
I’m sure I’m not the only one but I felt that motherhood put me in career-limbo and my opportunities for career progression had somewhat stalled. After having kids, I discovered that I really wanted to be a working mum on a part-time basis because I enjoyed the balance of being the primary carer to our children without completely losing my sense of identity.
“Yet, I believe, there is still pressure to accept that unless you are working full-time you need to be satisfied with the status quo and not being able to offer more time to a workplace means that you may be overlooked for more senior roles or promotions”.
Breast cancer has added another dimension to the change in my career outlook. Now, if I choose to return to work when my youngest is at school, rather than working in any industry perhaps I would like to focus my attention and use my personal experience to campaign and advocate for improvements in cancer prevention, treatment and support.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for working mums?
Thinking that we have to do everything to the best of our abilities in every aspect of our lives. We take on a lot, by default, yet we still feel like we are failing. We should be congratulating ourselves more and criticising ourselves less. I honestly believe that this applies to all mums.
How do you define success?
I believe that being content in your profession and being a part of a flexible workplace, which allows you and your partner to care for your family as a team is a true sign of success. Thinking about success in this way may prompt us to ask questions…
Are you happy with your salary and if not, have you put your case forward for an increase?
Are you satisfied with the number of days a week that you are working? Or is your workplace pressuring you to work more days/full-time because that is “the nature of the role”.
Are you or your partner making sacrifices at the expense of your home life – working long hours, travelling for work, not being there for the kids at school pick-up/after school activities or bedtime?
As the primary carer or part-time worker, do you have to be the flexible one or the one who has to drop everything for the children?
If your profession or workplace is not giving you what you need then it is time to move on. The grass may not always be greener, but it is not worth wasting years in a role where the organisation does not value your individual contribution.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
As a creative-type, I would tell my younger self to practice your craft at every chance, stop putting it off or waiting for the right moment. I have to keep telling my older self to do this too! Additionally, I wish I could tell my younger self to not be fooled into thinking that you have to be passionate about your job. This may lead to giving too much of yourself to your work and therefore not prioritise the more important aspects of your life. As I said above, aim to be content in your career but save your passion for a hobby or a worthy cause, something that will be more meaningful for you.
What’s your biggest work achievement?
I can’t pinpoint a major accomplishment in my career that stands out more than others. I am proud of a variety of smaller achievements during my working life across different workplaces. I was pretty excited to have my name published in a medical journal for co-ordinating the development a website that was part of a PhD study, or seeing a logo that I had designed on the hard hats and uniforms for a major Victorian construction project, as well as recording and editing video footage of the work involved to remove and replace a rail bridge during the development of a major motorway. In my most recent role, I wrote a four-page advertorial for a trade magazine. I was so daunted by this, but it really boosted my confidence to write.
I think I’m prouder of sharing my story in a very public way to raise awareness and support for people, like me, with a genetic pre-disposition of developing breast and ovarian cancer. My siblings and I were the faces of Pink Hope’s Bright Pink Lipstick Day campaign in 2017, which led to a chance spotting of Mia Freedman on a Sydney street and this resulted in my sister and I recording a video of our story which was featured on Mamamia.
What’s your biggest mum achievement?
Managing to keep my boys alive! In all seriousness, I can’t say that there is one big achievement that stands out to me because there can be good days and really tough days when my children really push me to my limits. It’s the small wins that count – when they listen, demonstrate kindness towards others, or exhibit resilience and confidence. I am trying hard to raise them as feminists.
“As for myself, I do believe that I have become more patient and flexible after having children. They have taught me, in all areas of life, that if something doesn’t work out the way it was planned, you have to pick yourself up and move onto Plan B”.
What’s your best tip for other mums?
Am I allowed to provide more than one tip? Put yourself first and consciously make the time to exercise. I’m not talking about buying into ‘fitspo’, putting pressure on yourself to lose weight or maintain a perfect, healthy diet. Participate in regular exercise that you enjoy and can afford – it will be good for your mind and your body.
“Deal with the hard stuff – book in your overdue pap-test or mammogram, see your GP for a general check-up, write a will, assess your life, trauma or income protection insurance, contribute more to your superannuation to account for the time you took off work to care for your children or for going back to work part-time. You never know what is around the corner and we shouldn’t put off doing the things that we think can wait until we are older”.
If you wish to contribute to your children’s school lives, do it in a way that is interesting for you and suits you. I honestly don’t want to volunteer at our school canteen, I’m sorry! However, I have set up a TerraCycle recycling program at our school and I genuinely love being responsible for it.
If you have a partner, make sure that you find the time to re-connect and truly relax. If possible, call on anyone you can to look after the kids so that you can have a weekend away and not have to answer to anyone’s demands.
Photo credit: warrenphotography