A Golden Day at Salesforce World Tour L.A.
“Sure,” I said. “What do you need, a picture?”
They replied, “No, we help [Salesforce CEO] Marc Benioff with his keynotes.”
THAT…I was not expecting. (As Joe Biden once whispered to Barack Obama over an unknown hot mic, “This is a BFD!!!”)
As I worked with folks at Salesforce to continually shape and refine my story (much thanks to the incredible patience of Frances Chang and Becky deLoryn!) — first, about working in the pre-Trailhead Salesforce world, then leaving for two years to undergo and recover from breast cancer treatment (including chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation), and now re-entering the Salesforce Ohana — I had TWO MINUTES to share my story clearly and concisely for a potential audience of 1000+.
Women Empowering Women
Salesforce allowed me 10 guests as my “cheering section.” Since my fiancé often cannot attend my Salesforce events out-of-town, I was excited for him to finally experience the Ohana in person.
For the others, I chose to invite either: 1) Salesforce Women in Tech User Group leaders, and 2) Salesforce User Group leaders that were women.
One of them remarked, “I love the female representation!” THAT was intentional; they had all been such a huge part of this journey, and I can never thank them enough for helping me to re-enter this community!
Goodbye, Sweet Yuri
Shortly before the event, I had recently visited the inspiring Yuri Angela Chung, a freelance graphic designer who was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at age 25. Right before her fifth year in remission, the cancer came back as Stage IV, which had metastasized to her lungs, bones, and brain.
She then created Notes to a Friend, a multimedia installation that transformed her beautiful written reflections on her cancer experience into an immersive one. (As a fellow Korean/creative/breast cancer survivor, I was constantly awed by how openly honest she was about her breast cancer journey. I cannot even imagine how many young breast cancer survivors’ lives she touched, the way she impacted mine.)
At age 33, she then developed leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (LC), a rare complication of cancer in which the disease spreads to the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which occurs in approximately 5% of people with cancer and is usually terminal.
The usual prognosis is three months, but in true Yuri fashion, she fought with EVERY PART of her entire body (even when doctors recommended otherwise) until the end for eight incredible months. I will ALWAYS admire her indomitable fighting spirit; I will never forget her faithful & furry companion, Elvis, her sweet smile and her trademark red hat.
Her wake was on the day of Salesforce World Tour L.A. 💔
Trying to Hold On
At Salesforce World Tour L.A., the amazing Sarah Joyce Franklin, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Trailhead & Developer Relations at Salesforce, asked to meet me before we spoke at the keynote. As much as I was excited to be there, I confided in her that although I was there physically…my heart and mind were elsewhere. (Frankly, I was just trying to keep it together.)
After telling her Yuri’s story, she hugged me and said, “If you get emotional, that’s the truth — and we are all here with you.”
THANK YOU, Sarah, for your incredible kindness that day and for the space & place to feel/honor my grief.
This Ohana is truly amazing.
Before the keynote, I was told I would be next after the PepUpTech video. As the video started, so did my jitters.
Since I consider many of those in the video as friends, there was something calming about seeing and hearing them onscreen at that moment — especially my dear friend, Shakil Kamran, one of the first PepUpTech graduates.
It reminded me of their important work of advocating for diversity in tech, how much still needed to be done and that sharing my story in this moment was bigger than me.
Seated next to the incredible Leandro Perez, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, I whispered, “My friends are in this video.”
He responded, “So, it is like following family.”
Indeed it was.
Suddenly, it was time for the keynote. As an introvert, one of my worst fears is public speaking.
After hours of practicing a two-minute speech, I could do this…right?
I had this entire inspirational speech memorized, but as soon as I hit the line, “Tomorrow is never promised,” there it went. Everything I had been trying to so delicately hold together inside emotionally came rushing out in tears, in front of 1000+ people watching.
Suddenly, the survivor’s guilt hit me: I thought of the magnitude of this moment as a breast cancer survivor, what it meant to finally be back at work after treatment, all of the breast cancer survivors I had known and lost — and all of their families who had lost them — and how they would never get this opportunity.
One of Yuri’s last social media posts shared how she was not back at work…yet.
And now, she never will be.
The Hard Part is (NOT) Over
When I recently shared my scanxiety (cancer patients' fear and worry associated with scans, both before and after a test, before the results are revealed) of my ongoing oncologist check-ins to check if I still have no evidence of disease (NED), a friend wrote me, “You will be fine. The hardest part is over.”
I really hate when people say this to me. You may mean well, but please don’t say this to a cancer survivor.
First of all, YOU HAVE NO IDEA IT IS FINE. So, don’t say it. (Sometimes, we just need our fears heard and validated.)
Why is the “hard part over?” Because I am no longer in chemo? Because I now have hair?
Do you think it is that easy to pick up your life after pausing it for over a year to face death? That I do not continue to have depression, anxiety, and survivor’s guilt, especially after constantly losing friends in this community? That I don’t cry every time the needle hits my arm for my maintenance appointments, because it brings up my P.T.S.D.? That I don’t constantly worry that every ache & pain means that cancer has returned, and I will become just another statistic?
Now, as I deal with my own father being diagnosed with cancer — and having to shift from a patient to a (helpless) caregiver from afar — I am constantly reminded of the devastating, far-reaching impact of cancer.
Welcome to #LifeWithGoldie
While in a tear-induced fog, I forgot my speech. All I remember is Sarah Joyce Franklin giving me a hug…and then, something gold appeared.
The audience applauded, my cheering section went crazy, my phone suddenly blew up and there I was, out-of-body, now one of only approximately 50 Salesforce Golden Hoodie recipients (whose inspiring stories are shared at Salesforce events, in hopes that the spotlight and inspiration will carry on when they wear the hoodie) IN THE WORLD.
Did that just happen??
This is Us
I often talk about how I struggle with impostor syndrome, especially as a woman of color in tech. What had I done to deserve this??
If anything, receiving the Golden Hoodie made my impostor syndrome even worse.
As the golden dust settles from that day, I can’t help but think back to sitting in chemo, bald, and never knowing if I would make it back to work…let alone my next birthday.
The end of my cancer road was unclear, and work was the last thing on my mind.
And there, sitting next to me in chemo, was my fiancé, who luckily was able to work in the chair beside me and had to help feed me because my arm was stuck with an IV (before I had a port).
Who stood by me when I said I could not go back to just ANY job post-cancer — throughout the mental, emotional and financial pressure of that decision — since I knew my life now had to have some meaning and most importantly, PURPOSE.
Who was with me during my first Salesforce journey, then my having to leave work for years once diagnosed, throughout my breast cancer treatment, our unknown beyond…and now watching from the Salesforce World Tour L.A. audience.
This (golden) recognition was not just for me — it was also for HIM.
This celebration was FOR US.
When I was trying to re-enter the Salesforce world, I applied for a job but didn’t get it. Later, the interviewer offered to give me feedback as to why they made their decision.
In the spirit of self-improvement, I jumped at that incredible opportunity. They gave me extremely helpful tips on how to grow, make myself more marketable, get re-certified (since it had lapsed while I was in treatment) and told me to try again in a year.
And that’s what I did. (However, while in the midst of applying again, I began working elsewhere; they were one of the first people to congratulate me.)
During World Tour L.A., Salesforce also offered me an incredible opportunity to share my story during the Trailblazer Fireside Chat.
Remember the interviewer who didn’t give me a job…but invaluable feedback instead?
She now works for Salesforce. GUESS WHO INTERVIEWED ME FOR THE TRAILBLAZER FIRESIDE CHAT??!!
Lesson learned: Never be afraid to put yourself out there, be open to feedback and be willing to grow. (You may not get the job, but you may gain an incredible connection and relationship simply from applying.)
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Paige Van Riper, for your incredible guidance and encouragement throughout my Salesforce journey! It was an absolute full-circle HONOR to have you, of all people, interview me on such a memorable day, and it meant the world to me.
Salesforce Ohana, KEEP GOING!!
A few short weeks after receiving the Golden Hoodie, I took the Platform Developer I certification exam. I did not pass.
I wasn’t going to share the results…but I wanted people to understand you don’t just wake up one day and receive a Golden Hoodie.
As much as I struggle with the magnified impostor syndrome that happened after receiving this incredible honor, I know that I worked my a** off in Salesforce to get to this point. In the end, there are no shortcuts. YOU WILL NEVER GET AROUND DOING THE WORK.
Time I followed my own advice and keep going!
Brave, Not Perfect
Am I proud of the fact that I spent my concise two-minute opportunity to share my story at a Salesforce event in (what felt like an eternity of) speechlessness and tears?
No, of course not.
But I cannot tell you how many people approached me after the keynote, asking for a hug while trying not to cry, to share their stories of loved ones being impacted by cancer.
A few days later, someone wrote me that they were in the audience that day and that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. They also shared that they were deeply moved.
THAT’S what I choose to remember from that day.
In the end, it was HONEST. My heart was broken that day, and I couldn’t hide it. And I didn’t want to.
What I HAD Hoped to Say
Read below for the Salesforce World Tour keynote remarks I prepared, since I was too emotional in the moment to fully get them out…
Tell us about your journey and how you got involved in the Salesforce community?
I actually have a fashion design background but fell into Salesforce while I was in a temp job at a nonprofit and became a Power User.
I knew I wanted to make the switch to Admin but wasn’t sure how. I began to learn more, pitched myself to the Salesforce team and when there was an opportunity, I made the switch.
BUT, soon after I became certified, I was shockingly diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to leave work for two years to go through 15 rounds of chemo, three surgeries and 32 radiation treatments and afterward, I really didn't know if I could come back.
I had a lot of doubts because I didn't have a background in IT and when I was first learning Salesforce, there was no Trailhead — plus I knew whatever work I did after cancer had to have MEANING and PURPOSE.
That's when I got involved in the Salesforce community and a special nonprofit called Amplify, which empowers underrepresented voices in the Salesforce.org ecosystem. [I met mentors and even created their website as a pro-bono project.] And I shared my story to close out their recent Dreamforce event. With the support of the community, I knew I wasn't alone. I had the Ohana behind me as I worked to not just get my Admin certification back...but I also gained my Platform App Builder certification.
Now I have an incredible job where I get to consult with nonprofits. I also volunteer with Amplify as an L.A. co-leader. I even used my fashion skills to create the ParkPuff™ seatbelt pillow, which helps comfort breast cancer patients worldwide, and I’m so happy to be able to give back.
What advice do you have for others who are starting their Trailblazer journey?
If I've learned anything through my journey, it's that tomorrow is never promised. So, in sharing my story, I hope to show underrepresented voices in tech — especially women of color — to not let ANYTHING get in your way, even when faced with adversity.
Embrace your imperfectly authentic story, whatever it may be, because it's what makes you truly unique. You can't be what you can't see. Representation matters, so KEEP GOING!!!
And find your Salesforce Ohana, because there is absolutely NOTHING like it! We’re here to empower, uplift and inspire each other.