Cancer and the Power of Work

Sarah Haberfeld de Haaff and family

Never mix work with politics or religion. That is what she told me at least – the best boss ever. And I have stayed true to her words. But I am in an unfamiliar space now, because she never said anything about work and breast cancer. Or work and suffering. Or work and death.

But I need to mix them – because it is the best way to honor the impact and life of my sister-in-law, Sarah Haberfeld de Haaff. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36 and died on Monday at 40.

We buried her on Thursday.

I am angry and work is one way that I know how to keep creating in the face of destruction. Absolutely. It is also one way to give cancer the middle finger and reject its greedy hopelessness. Sarah would like that.

Most of you simply know me as a former colleague or as the CEO of Aha! Today, I am just a heartbroken brother and uncle.

Sarah was someone everyone wanted to know, she led with her heart, and taught those who had no voice how to speak. She was a speech therapist and the loving wife of my brother, Greg, and together they had Sophia (7) and Gabe (6).

Today, she is gone.

While the pink ribbons at schools and pink shoes on 300-pound NFL linemen in October faded into Movember mustaches and beards, breast cancer did not care. It destroys lives year-round.

230,000 women in America are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. But you probably already knew that, because you know someone or know of someone who has it.

Sarah’s last lesson was one of hope. She opened her heart and invited the entire community to see what it meant to face incurable illness with dignity. Her writings over the last four years were numerous. She told stories with the wit of a comic and grit of a locker room.

She wrote the following on October 23 — exactly four months to the day of her passing:

The technician would say, “Take a deep breath, now hold it….hold it… ok! You can breathe.” And after a few times of hearing that, I was like… Yeah. I CAN breathe. I can BREATHE! I CAN eat and talk. My heart is still beating, I CAN laugh, I can cry, I can snuggle, I can still breathe. I am still alive and there is still a chance that this is going to work.

Sarah believed in life. She was not the life of the party or fashionable – she was the party and was fashion. She was the protector of “YUM” everywhere. Sarah’s spark was bright.

About nine months ago, Sarah’s friends started a social campaign on her behalf with #thisisgoingtowork. I suggest that we all work to end this vicious disease. Please share this story with your network and use #thisisgoingtowork to support the millions of people who are affected by breast cancer right now. Do it for Sarah and yourself.

I wrote this unconventional post because work is personal. It’s what we do to move forward. We should write and talk about it with at home and the office. Action can help us remember and forget. And all we can do each day is work to build what we believe in.

Please consider contributing $10 to the Educational Fund that has been set up for Sarah and Greg’s kids — Sophia and Gabe — in lieu of flowers or other contributions to the family.

You may also want to contribute in Sarah’s name to the following non-profits that provided her information, camaraderie, and comfort.

Bay Area Young Survivors               Breast Cancer Action

May the memories of Sarah Haberfeld de Haaff be a blessing.

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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