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How Facebook VP Nicola Mendelsohn used Groups to navigate her cancer diagnosis

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

In the winter of 2016, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, received the devastating news that she had the incurable blood cancer, follicular lymphoma.

“That weekend was without question — because I was a bit in limbo, we didn’t know what it may not have been — it was without question the worst weekend of my life,” Mendelsohn told the Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show.

Watch the full Nicola Mendelsohn Global Change Agents interview here

Public awareness of follicular lymphoma isn’t high. As Mendelsohn researched the condition over the next few months she stumbled across the Living with Follicular Lymphoma Facebook group. The closed group now has more than 5,500 members.

“They are my best source of advice and inspiration and sounding board when I’m just going ‘has anyone had...’,” Mendelsohn said. “We share deeply personal things with one another because we’re there to help one another.”

Late last year, Mendelsohn revealed her cancer had entered remission.

“I was able to go about 18 months with it before I needed treatment, which I did last summer, and I had to have chemo and immunotherapy, which is not...I mean, it was horrific,” said Mendelsohn.

She emphasised that not all therapies and cancers are the same and that people can react very differently to treatment. The married mother-of-four praised the support of her family and and doctors.

“I was able to work through. I had great support and I was lucky and I had great doctors and now this is part of me. I will continue to be monitored. I feel well. I feel good,” Mendelsohn said.

‘I was always grateful — I’m probably even more grateful’

Mendelsohn made changes to her lifestyle following the diagnosis, including taking up exercise and largely cutting sugar from her diet.

“In terms of has it changed me? Yes, of course a diagnosis like that does,” Mendelsohn said. “I was always grateful — I’m probably even more grateful — I definitely take better care of myself.”

Mendelsohn has often said in previous interviews that she doesn’t like talking about career or life highlights, as she prefers to look forward. But she did recall “an incredibly moving moment” when she met the founder of the Living With Follicular Lymphoma Facebook Group founder, who lives in Perth, Australia.

“She came over to the UK and it was really one of the most emotional moments because it was like a combination of all the parts of my life coming together in this one thing,” Mendelsohn said.

“There was a lot of crying, as you can imagine, but there was also this sense of strength and jubilance as well that came from it — she’s a good friend now as well.”

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.

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