My guest for this bonus episode of Punk Rock HR is Nicole Roberts, HR leader and founder and president of the People Solutions Group. She is a leader, mentor, mom, and friend who’s also fighting for her life and career after being laid off and diagnosed with cancer. My friend Jennifer McClure, CEO of Unbridled Talent, and I sat down with Nicole to discuss her diagnosis, how she found support through her community and cancer’s financial effects. 

Nicole has been in HR for almost 20 years and is an active leader in SHRM nationally and in Ohio, as well as with Disrupt HR and Workhuman. Nicole started her career in benefits and moved into leadership roles about 10 years ago. Last year, she joined a technology startup that quickly laid off 68% of the workforce. On Dec. 12, 2022, Nicole was also laid off. But that wasn’t the only challenge she faced.

Before joining the tech startup, Nicole noticed a lump in her breast. Her doctor performed a standard mammogram and ultrasound, but the results were inconclusive. While the doctor wanted to order a precautionary MRI. Nicole’s insurance denied her coverage.

Months later, she noticed the lump growing. This time, Nicole’s medical team diagnosed it as a BI-RADS category 4 suspicion: the standard measurement for abnormalities in the breast. Only nine days after being laid off, Nicole’s biopsy returned with a breast cancer diagnosis. 

“I knew I had a fight to prepare for and just wanted to find out what the plan was,” Nicole says. “I knew that once I had a plan that I would be OK.”

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Moving Forward With Support 

After being laid off, Nicole contacted her network for anything that was a fit. “I’m a single mom of two high school kids. I was not prepared for this, and there was no way that I was going to just sit and wait,” she says.

And while her network responded, the road ahead was not easy. Job-hunting and interviewing while also starting cancer treatment is no easy feat.

Besides her medical team, Nicole also found support through a Facebook group for women battling breast cancer, including the importance of mindset while balancing a career and treatment. 

“Mindset is everything. I decided going into it that there wasn’t an option for me of not getting through it, of not fighting,” she says. 

Ultimately, Nicole decided to launch her own business, People Solutions Group, to guide the next generation of leaders. 

“My goal is to create a generation of leaders who have cultures where people feel supported, appreciated, valued, and seen,” Nicole explains.

Embracing Self-Advocacy in Challenging Times

For women with dense tissue, it’s more common than people realize for a mammogram to miss abnormalities like cancer. 

“One thing that I have read over and over in the support group that I’m part of is so many women that have had that same experience where they went in. … They went in, they asked for diagnostic imaging or whatever, and they were either denied or they were told like, ‘Nope, that’s not what that is.’” Nicole says.

Self-advocacy helped Nicole ‌get the care she needed, but it’s not easy to do this — or pay for it.

“I went from being a senior vice president to being unemployed. So that’s what? A 90% pay cut? I didn’t prepare for this. I mean, I had savings. That’s gone,” Nicole shares. “I cashed out the retirement that I had had for the six months that I had been putting into that last company.” 

Thankfully, COBRA and her parents have been able to help offset some costs, but Nicole has felt the stress of having to go into debt, among all the other challenges. “That part’s hard, as well, because I was really proud of being independent and the sole provider for my kids and saving for retirement and having savings and not having debt,” she says.

Nicole is a leader, mentor, mom, and friend. Jennifer McClure and I want to do everything possible to help. That’s why we’ve created a GoFundMe for Nicole to help offset some of the financial burdens and ease her suffering. Learn more about the GoFundMe for Nicole or scan the QR code below for more info.


People in This Episode

Nicole Roberts: Linkedin, Twitter

Jennifer McClure: LinkedIn, Twitter

Resources to Support