Surviving & Thriving with the Support of Thumbtack

Thumbtack People Team
Life @ Thumbtack
Published in
7 min readOct 2, 2023

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Liz Ferguson, Trust & Safety Sr. Specialist, shares the story of her cancer journey

According to the most recent data from the National Cancer Institute, roughly 40% of people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Take a minute to let that sink in. Such staggering statistics suggest that we will all be touched by cancer in some way — whether it’s personally or through a family member, friend, or colleague. In an effort to raise awareness and bring more visibility to this pervasive disease, our very own Trust & Safety Sr. Specialist and cancer survivor, Liz Ferguson, opened up to share her story and how her Thumbtack co-workers rallied behind her every step of the way.

Starting At Thumbtack and Getting A Cancer Diagnosis

“I was hired as a Trust & Safety specialist at Thumbtack in April of 2021, eager and ready to help improve processes. I originally chose Thumbtack because of the virtual-first, not virtual-only model. I knew that by working remotely, I could help care for elderly family members if they fell ill. Then in July, I found a lump in my own breast that felt like a peanut. I called my doctors and they immediately scheduled me for testing. I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on August 5. The doctors told me it would feel like a whirlwind, and it did in every way possible — a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, a whirlwind of changes in my body, a whirlwind of emotions. You already have enough fears when you’re facing your mortality, and work shouldn’t be one of them. That’s what I appreciate about my experience at Thumbtack. I didn’t have to worry and I was able to get all the support I needed throughout this entire whirlwind journey.”

Opening Up At Work And Finding The Support I Needed

“The first person I opened up to at Thumbtack about my diagnosis was Olivia Whiteside, the lead specialist on our team at the time. We had only known each other for a few months, which is a very short time to feel so close to someone and create that level of connectivity over Zoom. She’s such a genuine person and I really appreciate that about her. When I Zoom-called her, I broke down into tears. She took that moment to empathize with me, and then she kicked everything into gear to support me in every way she could.”

“The next person I told was Ashley Powell, who was my manager at the time. Ashley was very sensitive and she got me in touch with the HR person I needed to speak with regarding short-term disability and how to handle things around chemotherapy. She also asked me if I wanted to share my diagnosis with the team. A lot of people are really afraid to share their cancer experience with people, and understandably so, but I decided, in fairness to my team, that I would share my news since they were going to have to cover for me a lot. I knew I needed their support, and it’s easier to get the support you need when people can empathize with you.”

“I wanted to create an environment of openness about my situation, so I told my team in a meeting, and they were so thoughtful. They immediately created a private Slack channel to talk about all the ways they could support me through this process. Every three weeks, they would pick up my workload and carry on for me until I returned from my treatments. They sent me gifts and flowers to let me know I wasn’t alone on this journey. They spent team money on T-shirts to show me that we were in this together and sent me one that said I’m a cancer warrior. They even created a video of everyone wearing their T-shirts, set it to the Sia song ‘Unstoppable,’ and wove in quotes about being strong. All of these gestures were so inspiring, touching, and meaningful for me. As weak as chemo makes your body, my mind and my emotional state were very strong. I was calm because I knew I had the support of so many people, including my friends at work, and that made a world of difference.”

Managing The Challenges Of Chemo

“I went through six rounds of chemo between September and December 2021, and it made me incredibly weak and exhausted. You just don’t feel yourself and your body is undergoing all these changes. Food doesn’t taste the same because your taste buds are fast-growing cells, and that’s what the chemo is attacking. Even the blandest foods tasted too spicy. My eyes also got extremely dry from the chemo, and I had to use Google Translate to go through emails. Sleep became very important. I did my chemo on Fridays so that I’d have the weekends to start recovering. And then I would take the first couple of days off the following week to continue recovering. I was just so fatigued and tired.”

“When I first started chemo, I tried to keep my hair. I had to wear what they call a cold cap for about eight hours on infusion days, and it was so incredibly uncomfortable. After a while, your head kind of goes numb to it, but it’s still so cold. And it didn’t help save my hair. During that time, I got to sit in a private room because that’s where the cold cap machines are. I was allowed to bring my sister with me, but when I stopped using the cold cap and was out on the floor with everyone else, I couldn’t bring anyone with me because of COVID.”

“The hair loss was difficult because your hair is such a big part of your identity. Wigs were too uncomfortable and I didn’t like the feeling of hats either. Everything felt so cold — you don’t realize how much your hair is insulating your body. The first time I ventured out with a bald head was a terrifying experience, but I forced myself to do it. I went to the store, and to my surprise, no one reacted.”

“Because your body goes through so many changes during chemo and because there are a lot of emotional highs and lows, I decided not to turn on my camera at work to create a safe space for myself. It was a major relief that we’re virtual-first, so I didn’t have the added fears about getting sick at work or facing colleagues with a bald head and no eyebrows.”

Raising Awawareness

“My cancer journey has helped me put a voice to the experience and advocate for a better, healthier environment for people to overcome their cancer battles and not just survive but really thrive in life after cancer. I learned that 40% of people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes and that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, so I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to other women to be as open as possible about my experience. I want to share my story to raise awareness and provide a safe space for anyone who has questions. I want to normalize what having cancer is like and normalize the idea of a woman with a bald head. I want to see a world where we’re normalizing painful moments, grief, sadness, anger, and all other emotions that life has to offer because that’s what makes us human. We often have a difficult time talking about women’s health, and so many of us suffer in silence when we could be sharing. My cousin reached out and told me that her mom battled breast cancer and did it in private. My story helped open up her mind’s eye to what her mom went through. I hope that, by raising awareness, people can better understand and relate to what friends, co-workers, or family members might be going through.”

Leading With Vunerablity

“A friend of mine from eBay had just moved into an executive team position when she was diagnosed with cancer. She blogged about it and posted images of herself with a bald head. I followed her journey, and when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really found inspiration in her story and the things she shared and was willing to be vulnerable about. Her name is Sarah E. McDonald and she has since written a book called The Cancer Channel. When she found out I was diagnosed, she provided me with a lot of support and she even sent me a copy of the book before it was published.”

“I love that, at Thumbtack, you can show up at work 100% yourself and not have to be afraid of who you are. I appreciate the vulnerability of our leadership team to share very personal stories (like they did during May’s mental health panel discussion) because they’re so powerful, and I think it’s helped me feel comfortable sharing my own cancer journey. It’s really surprised me how open and vulnerable I’ve been able to be with people throughout this process, and for the most part, there aren’t many limits on what I will and won’t share. It’s incredible how many cancer survivors have reached out and told me how brave I am to be sharing my story. I don’t really see myself as being brave or courageous. I just know it’s what I needed to do.”

“Now that I’m at the end of my cancer journey and recovery, I really do feel unstoppable — in my career, in my life, in everything — just like the Sia song says. And if I’m always smiling, it’s because I’m truly happy.”

We’re hiring inspired folks who embrace our values. Check out our opportunities at www.thumbtack.com/careers.

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Thumbtack People Team
Life @ Thumbtack

We spend our days empowering people from all walks of life to do their work with joy and purpose. Read more about the work we’re doing, and how we’re doing it!