[WATCH] Amplify@Dreamforce: On This Day
ON THIS DAY, EXACTLY four years ago, I was shockingly diagnosed with Stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer.
I TRULY do not believe it was an accident to have the GIFT of sharing my story today, ON THIS DAY of all days. As an introvert, I honestly shared my truth — both about being a breast cancer survivor and the hard work of getting back to my life as a woman of color in tech — and had to pause several times for tears.
THANK YOU to everyone who came out today to listen to my story, on my diagnosis day — I appreciate you all.
ON THIS DAY, I CELEBRATE LIFE!
(Read below for the remarks I prepared for my speech.)
THANK YOU to Amplify for this incredible opportunity to share our diverse stories! To say I am LUCKY to stand in front of you today is an understatement.
ON THIS DAY, exactly four years ago, after years of working in Salesforce & becoming certified, I was shockingly diagnosed with stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer.
Now, to most of you, my first statement of being lucky may not make sense...but let me explain why.
During over a year of 15 rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and 32 radiation treatments, I was unable to work in order to focus on healing. On a forced “break,” I lost my Salesforce certification. I not only lost my hair, I also lost my Salesforce cred. And I had worked REALLY hard for it.
To try to re-enter the tech world after a long absence is not easy. (A few years gone in the real world is like dog years in tech; you not only have to catch up to where you were, but you also have to learn all the new bells & whistles that have been added since.)
When I left the Salesforce ecosystem, there was no Lightning nor Trailhead. The community was always AMAZING — we just didn’t call it “Ohana” yet.
When I was officially declared to have N.E.D. (or no evidence of disease) after my major surgery, I couldn’t believe it. Months of chemo always had me covering my head with a scarf, but after surgery, something shifted inside.
I thought “If I could get through THAT, why shouldn’t I be proud?” From that moment on, I held my (bald) head high. I never covered it again.
For those of you who don’t know, triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive and tends to recur. The highest risk of recurrence is within the first two to three years.
As I recently approached my three-year milestone, I felt an odd mix of emotions while holding my breath for the last three years. Now, I don’t feel like I can relax until I reach the five-year mark (when the chance of recurrence goes down)…
And that’s the TRUTH about life after cancer — you can NEVER really relax.
Cancer is also the gift that keeps on giving. I struggle with the ongoing effects of chemo brain (which are thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment). My memory — and body — is not what it was…and honestly, I hate it sometimes.
In returning to the tech world as a woman — especially a woman of color — with a non-technical background (as a fashion designer) who had been away for years, I often struggle with impostor syndrome and feeling like I truly belong in the room.
Coming back into Salesforce without certification was tough. It was frustrating to keep explaining to everyone that I WAS certified and why I now wasn’t. (However, I always knew if I did it once, I could do it again.)
As I re-entered this world, I could not have fully come back without the love and support of Amplify.
Shortly before last year’s Dreamforce, I noticed a callout from Girlforce for website help in the Power of Us Hub. Thinking it was a small project, I reached out to Jace Bryan (who has now become my wingman, in Salesforce AND life).
What I didn’t know at the time was that Girlforce would soon become the nonprofit, Amplify, and they would need an entire rebrand. Dreamforce was only a few short weeks away, and I thought, Surely, they don’t need this by then?? (Careful what you wish for!)
Not only did we launch the new website during last year’s breakfast in Salesforce Tower (while I hid in the audience), Amplify also offered to share my story during the event.
As an introvert still trying to find my place back in the Ohana, I had been comfortably staying silent in the background for months and was nervous about telling my story. What if it made me look less capable?
After discussing my jitters with my dear Salesforce friend, Laura Derby, she asked, “What would you tell me?” I responded, “Share your story. You never know who you may be helping.” I had answered my own question.
When I was recently asked by my dear friend to walk in her New York Fashion Week runway show, featuring women that had been impacted by breast cancer, my knee-jerk introvert reaction was to say no. Again, Laura simply said: DO. IT.
When the designer showed me the swimsuit I was going to wear, I promptly asked, “WHERE’S THE REST OF IT??!!” She offered to make me feel more comfortable by adding a cover-up, but I suddenly realized what the show was all about: not only accepting — but LOVING — your post-breast cancer body. Although I once felt my body betrayed me, I CELEBRATED it that day, FLAWS, SCARS & ALL...because it’s also what got me through cancer.
To all of you underrepresented voices in tech (especially women of color), I TRULY BELIEVE it is not an accident that I have the HONOR of sharing my story with you, ON THIS DAY of all days.
Now IN FRONT of the audience instead of hiding in it, celebrating over one year back in Salesforce — and being over three years cancer-free(!) — I stand here to tell you: DO NOT LET ANYTHING GET IN YOUR WAY!
I’ve often been the only woman on the tech team — and certainly the only woman of color — but I know I am not the only one out here. (I, too, have struggled calling myself a “woman in tech” and believing it, even though I have now worked in it for almost ten years.)
Although it may not always feel like it, know you are NOT alone. What you consider shortcomings will be the very things that distinguish you from everyone else and will set you apart.
Let your impostor syndrome fuel you! Embrace your imperfectly authentic story, whatever it may be — it’s what makes you truly unique.
Remember, you can’t be what you can’t see. REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
And when it gets tough (and it will), find your Salesforce Ohana, because there is NOTHING like it; we’re here to empower, uplift & inspire each other.
Don’t get discouraged…get determined to KEEP GOING!! WE. NEED. YOU. HERE!
Thank you for listening to my story on my diagnosis day.
About Rachel Park
Rachel Park is a tie designer, founder of Rachel Park Designs and 2x certified Salesforce Analyst. A breast cancer survivor, she founded SurvivorModa.com & created The ParkPuff™ seatbelt pillow for breast cancer patients worldwide. Her ties have been worn on the Emmys® red carpet, have received international press, plus she recently walked the New York Fashion Week runway.
Honored to have built the website for Amplify, she is a RAD Women Code graduate & Trailhead Ranger. Also a Top 50 finalist in the 2X Woman of the Year initiative by the Hustle & Salesforce, her Salesforce/survivor story was featured as the inaugural guest on the SF Campfire Stories podcast.