Coaching for life

July 17, 2012
Amy Dove

 Kathy McLaughlin calls it the coaching couch.

Located in her living room, it is where she simultaneously completed her online course work for Royal Roads University’s Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching and recovered from brutal bouts of chemotherapy.

“I found the program to be transformative in every way,” she says. “I can't say it cured my cancer, but it gave me a profound opportunity to do the soul searching I needed to do in context with a phenomenal learning experience. I graduated in May 2005, with no hair and a lot of pride.”

She registered for the six-month program offered through Royal Roads’ Centre for Learning and Management (CALM) shortly after receiving the news that her cancer had returned after seven years in remission. That diagnosis also led to the discovery of an autoimmune disease that had damaged her liver beyond repair.

“It was a really awkward situation. At one point we were told they couldn’t treat my cancer because of the state of my liver and they couldn’t treat my liver because I needed a transplant, but I was not eligible for it because I had cancer,” she says. “I have been through cancer twice now. The treatment itself was quiet brutal this time around because it had to be fairly aggressive.”

Her friends and family thought she was crazy for taking on the course, but McLaughlin knew she needed to keep her mind focused on something positive. She had been looking at the program prior to her diagnosis but had never found the right time to do it.

“It was a distraction and a gift,” she says of the course. “It is not something I would normally give myself the luxury of doing.”

McLaughlin started chemotherapy after the first residency. At home, working on the online segment of the program, the days were a series of peaks and valleys, she says. On a bad day it took all of her energy to move from the bed to the “coaching couch” and on the good days she was raring to go at 4 a.m. – a side effect of the steroids that were supporting her liver.

The program gave her the space to really examine who she wanted to be and what she wanted to do professionally, she says. “I think the timing was perfect because I was doing this soul searching anyways. You do that when you are sick, especially for the second wake up call.”

After graduation, she launched her own coaching consulting firm in 2007 and has carried on with her training to attain the Professional Certified Coach credential. Building off more than a decade of experience helping lead corporations such as Rogers Wireless and Fido, Royal Roads gave her the focus to really hone in on what she enjoyed most, which is helping people reach their goals.

In 2009, after five years in remission, she was eligible for a liver transplant. She made it through the transplant, but lost the organ to infection shortly afterwards. The second liver transplant was successful and after she recovered from the surgery McLaughlin was keen to focus on projects she had to set aside during her illness.

One of those was returning to Royal Roads as a mentor for students. McLaughlin is now an alumni panelist for the same capstone presentations she had to make. Having an alumni presence on the panel is appreciated by faculty and students alike, says Annette Siewertsen, CALM learning and development consultant. She has worked with McLaughlin to organize panel judges and knows how appreciative the students are of her presence and insight.

“She is very curious and organized,” Siewertsen says. “She is very knowledgeable in her field and she gets it.”

For Mclaughlin the drive to come back is simple.

“It’s because I found it so transformative I want others to have that opportunity. I also want to stay immersed in it and keep the saw sharp,” she says.  “In coaching the newbies, watching them refreshes my skills.”

McLaughlin also gives back to various agencies and is a frequent speaker on behalf of the BC Cancer Foundation, BC Transplant and the Canadian Liver Foundation. She is currently writing two books, one of which is a memoir of her experience with cancer. As for her health, McLaughlin is frank about the future.

“I am cancer free and as far as I am concerned I won’t be having any more liver transplants.”