Hetty Einzig recommends this uplifting book written by master coach Gill Smith

Gill Smith is a renowned coach and ex-Chair of the Association for Coaching, UK. She had always planned to write a book with this uplifting title – but not this kind of book. Because You Can is the story of Gill’s journey thus far with cancer. Told in her own words, mostly in diary format, it charts Gill’s journey from the diagnosis of terminal cancer in April 2016 to treatment for metastases in her brain in the autumn of 2017.

The book is gripping. Gill’s openness, warmth and directness draw the reader into the daily detail of hospital appointments and treatment, family events, pets, friends and holidays, the reactions of her husband, daughters and others, her concern for her family’s wellbeing, and her own changing moods. We are invited into Gill’s life – an ordinary, real life – not unlike our own, in fact. This invitation has the effect of normalising cancer as something to be lived with rather than fought against – but, as one might expect from a master coach, lived with on one’s own terms, as the book’s subtitle asserts. And Gill’s terms are uplifting: over and again she urges herself and us to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t.

What also lifts this book beyond the now ubiquitous Diary of a Cancer Patient are Gill’s acute skills of reflection, her ability to identify and express her feelings but also to place her experience within a wider context. ‘In the System,’ the AC conference Gill convened and chaired in the autumn of 2016, where she spoke wittily about her NHS experiences, was a tribute to taking this systemic perspective. In the book Gill’s thoughtful and informative comments on the state of the NHS and the politics of care, on treatment options, on her physical, emotional and mental reactions to treatment and the challenges and ironies of life with cancer engage the reader in an intimate and stimulating conversation.

The last few chapters usefully cover details of Gill’s current treatment, the side effects of chemotherapy and whole brain radiotherapy, and what she has learnt from this roller-coaster ride, together with a glossary and other resources. The book is full of light as well as shadow and laced with engaging stories. 

 One of the best is the tale – recounted at the September 2016 conference – of Gill’s hospital ‘jailbreak’ to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert while in the midst of treatment… but you will have to read this for yourself!

Gill’s strength of character shines through every page – even to the point where she is baffled by the inspiration others derive from her example, with the ‘… implicit assumption that… somehow, against all the odds, I am managing to be positive and open about what I am experiencing. This is far from true – I find it… easy to be open, and usually easy to be positive…but I am… hopeful that if people do find me or what I say inspirational then I will be doing something useful.’

This pragmatic attitude is typical – and of course she misses the point! It is this spirited capacity to choose to adopt an informed, positive, often assertive and sometimes mischievous approach in the face of the sheer exhaustion and overwhelming nature of living with cancer that is precisely so inspirational. The best coaching enables people to grasp challenges in this way and Gill’s story models well how we coach through example as much as through technique.


Hetty brings 30 years of psychology and executive coaching experience to global leadership development, and her career has spanned the arts through to global corporate culture-change programmes. A Director of The Flourish Initiative, a Senior Consultant with Performance Consultants International and Analytic-Network Coaching, and an Associate of Leaders’ Quest, she teaches on the Executive Coaching Diploma at the IMI in Dublin, and is the Editor of Coaching Perspectives. Her new book, The Future of Coaching, is out now.