People & Perspectives

The People of WBA Podcast: Episode 2

An unexpected year brought unexpected challenges for Kelly Bridges – and gave her a deeper appreciation for WBA’s commitment to cancer.

Kelly Bridges

When we talk about being a force for good, we’re referring to the collective impact of our colleagues across the globe. But we’re more than the sum of our parts; each of these people brings their own unique background, experience, beliefs and history to the job they do at WBA.

The People of WBA is our way of lifting up the voices that allow our company to thrive. You’ll hear stories from our pharmacies, laboratories, warehouses, and offices, and discover perspectives from London to Chicago, Hong Kong to Norway.  The stories may be different, but they all share one common thread – that together, #WeAreWBA.



Kelly Bridges is a storyteller by trade. She writes and edits content for WBA’s internal communications team, so she’s always keyed in on all of the latest news going on throughout the company.


Honestly, every day I have something different. I try and write and create internal news. Um, so I really get to know what's going on in all of the different brands and across all the countries.  Um, so I do feel like I'm the center of news sometimes. It's a nice thing to do, it's good to see what everybody's doing and what's the priority. And, um, you don't just focus on one area.


This year started for Kelly, like it did for many of us, with plans. And we all know what happened to plans in 2020.


2020 has sucked, right? I mean, we had massive plans for this year and I mean, the first one was to go to Disney, we'd booked and paid to go to go there to Florida. I mean that went away, straight away, you know, that's not going to happen. But the biggest plan of all was that, come July, we were due to move to China.


Kelly’s husband nabbed an amazing job as Head Teacher for an international school in Southeast China. They’d already started packing to move there from their home in the UK, when the coronavirus hit. They were disappointed, but figured they’d just have to put the move on pause for a few months.

But with everything going on – shifting plans, working from home, helping her two young children adjust to life under lockdown – Kelly just wasn’t in the mood to deal with some troubling symptoms she’d started experiencing. She chalked it up to a pre-existing condition, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, that she’d lived with for years, but called her doctor to see if she could come in and get it checked out just in case.


I phoned the GP surgery was abruptly told over the phone that they're not seeing anybody They're only doing telephone calls. So telephone consultations. And I said, “fine, you know, that's the way the world is. That's no problem.” So one early morning I was sat having breakfast with my children and my husband full lock down: all of us in our pajamas and the rest of it. I suddenly get a phone call and, I get a terrible reception in my house and I knew it was the doctor, but they couldn't hear me, soI had to run outside to my little courtyard in my pajamas in full view of all of my neighbors and started to tell the doctor about my problem, which obviously was a bit embarrassing and a bit funny. Really. I was laughing a little bit. 

So the doctor had said, “yeah, you definitely need a scan. There's nothing really I can do,” she said. “But I would really feel more comfortable if you had a scan, I'm going to call a gynecologist friend of mine and get some more advice.” And I was like, well, I'm really grateful. It's not really a service you would expect. So off she went, she phoned me back within a couple of hours and said, “yes, she absolutely wants to see you. So we're going to book it in. Um, so come to the hospital and have a scan, an internal scan.” So I did that, which was, uh, really scary in a pandemic. So I had to go to a hospital that I had never been to. I went on my own, because I can't take anybody with me. I had to drive, which I'd not done for like six weeks to somewhere I didn't know where I was going, so that was pretty scary as well. When I got there, the receptionist, she just looked at me completely strangely, like, “what on earth are you doing here?” And I was like, “I have got an appointment.” Everyone’s masked up in PPE. This is very early on, sort of around March time, March and April time.


A few days after the scan, Kelly got a phone call.


I had a call on a Friday afternoon, and the receptionist just confirmed who I was and said, “you've got an appointment in clinic on Wednesday and you're seeing this person.” And I said, “well, what for, and why?” And she said, “I don't know, I've just been told to book you in.” And I have to admit that kind of my stomach kind of dropped a little bit. Then I was like, that's a bit unusual. You don't often get asked just to, to come in a few days, time to no particular clinic. So I spent the whole weekend kind of worrying.

And then I went to the clinic. I could not find where I needed to go. It was really hot here in England, really hot that day. About 30 degrees. I walked around getting really hot and sweaty and getting really upset. And I was like, “where's the gynecological department? Where is it?” And the people that were helping around the hospital – bear in mind I was on my own, obviously – just said there isn't one. And I thought, gosh, that's it. I know what it is. This is cancer. Because they weren't going to see me for a gynecological reason. It was a cancer specialist.

So I sat in the waiting room sweating, um, for many reasons. And eventually a nurse came and got me and took me to see the consultant (another big indicator. Nobody ever comes to get you from a waiting room). So I sat down in the, in the consultant's office with the nurse that was still there and I was like, well, again, this is really weird. And she just, she tells me that what I expected. She said, “there's really bad news and really good news.” I was like, “okay.” And the really bad news is that you do have cancer,” but she said, “the really good news is that it's curable.”

And it was the word curable that actually made me really upset. And I cried. And even now my husband's like, “why did you cry at that?” And I said, “because I've never had something that's needed to be cured.”

Things normally get better on their own or with some medication, you know, it's something that needed to be cured was, um, or we would be curable is what, um, kind of tipped me over the edge. I think. So nobody ever wants to hear that news. My world was spinning.

It doesn't just take its toll on your body. It takes its toll on your mind as well, because this is the worst news you could ever possibly get. You know, and you immediately – and I hate to be quite so blunt – but you immediately think, “well, I'm going to die.” That's the immediate thought that someone, when they tell you that. So I guess for me, my perspective has changed. It's not all sort of shaving heads and being happy and it's about, wow, this is really bad news.


It's one thing to face cancer. It’s another thing altogether to face it in the midst of a pandemic. Kelly couldn’t bring her husband or a friend with her to appointments for support; and of course, there was always the fear of catching coronavirus while at the hospital. Kelly took a deep breath, and in her words, she had to just …


Put on my big-girl pants and just do it, you know? There was people that were far worse off than me. This was not as bad as it could have been. I think you just have to, you have to go to that place in and just go, “I'm not necessarily doing this for me. I'm doing this for the people that rely on me.” I really needed, I could have done with my husband being there, but what can you do? You know, there's nothing you can do. I felt for the people in the medical profession that were still able to, to treat me despite, you know, the risk to them as well. I mean, that obviously goes through your mind to the point where you just do what you're told. Put your most go and stand there. Don't step over that line, stand over there. You're like, “okay, I will.” So I guess the strength comes from knowing that I needed to be there for me kids.


So here’s where the connection to WBA comes in: Kelly has written and edited many stories on the WBA focus on cancer as one of our CSR pillars. We work with partners around the globe to support people living with cancer – including, in the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support. 


They gave you a packet which was from Macmillan and they handed you this sort of big wad of paper and, here's the support from Macmillan that you can expect. And I was gutted by that because you never – the classic cliche is that you never think it's going to happen to you. And they drop this great big thing in my arms. And it was like, “this is like the cancer book.” You know? And I was like, “oh God, this really means it. This really, they're not joking around. This is not just a little bit of cancer. This is real.”


Something that really hit home for her was the reason that WBA takes a 360-approach to supporting those with cancer. We have programs that show up in our stores to directly support patients, like Feel More Like You in the U.S. at our Walgreens stores where people can come in and get advice on beauty and skincare specific to side effects caused by cancer treatment, and the Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists program in the UK which trains Boots pharmacists to advise cancer patients in 1:1 consultations – but then there’s also our support of organizations involved in cancer research, like the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, or EORTC.


You think about the support we've got for the EOTC, I mean, that is not necessarily about supporting people with cancer. That's about getting to the actual root causes and to supply funds into research rather than support. So I'm not saying support is not as equally important, but sort of the problem for me is that prevention is better than cure. So that's how I think we have a unique position to help cancer patients around the world is to say, you know, “this sucks that it happened to you and we're here to support you, but we're also going to try and find out why it happened and to stop it happening again.” And that for me is really important. That's what kept going through my mind. I was thinking, “yeah, okay, these are the Macmillan nurses I've heard so much about, and this is the Macmillan partnership that I've written lots of stories about, but why did this happen to me?”

I'm healthy. I'm, I'm happy. What, if no one had found this? What if somebody hadn't seen this under a microscope? They had to check three times to make sure that this was what they thought it was. And if that money had not gone to the EORTC, who's to say that there wasn't someone clever enough to find it, you know? So for me, that, that's the unique position that WBA have is that they're looking into root causes rather than just the support.


After tests, treatments and following successful surgery this summer, Kelly is ready to put this part of 2020 behind her. Thankfully the cancer hadn’t spread, and she and her family are ready to get back to the original journey this year was supposed to bring them, while reflecting on a year they won’t soon forget:


Lockdown has given us all a unique experience, hasn't it? To see our kids and our families every single day. And my children have of amazed me and I've, I've thoroughly enjoyed their company. You know, you can get a bit like, “oh gosh, I can't do this again,” but they they've amused me every step of the way. I work at home and I'm kind of at the very top of a three-story house, but I can listen, I can hear what's going on outside in through the summer. My kids were outside all the time. Honestly, they were like street rats. It was amusing. I remember listening and they were talking to one of my neighbors who I'd not spoken to before, but then were out there telling them about what the good things were about Zoom and Teams, and which one was better … and they're 10 and eight! I was like, “what are you doing?” And they say “I was just talking to Dave about Zoom and Teams.” I was like, “okay.” So that was amusing.

I think for me, the brightest spot has been spending time with my kids, when I wouldn't necessarily have spent any, any time with them otherwise. Even in recovery, I've enjoyed a summer of sharing summer with them. It's been really special. I couldn't do very much because obviously I was recovering, but I was able to sit and watch and I was able to play with them and have a great summer with them. So I think all is not lost. 2020 has been terrible and all my plans have gone, you know, sideways, but you always have to look for a silver lining.


Well put.

Thank you to Kelly Bridges for sharing her story with us, and to you for listening and getting to know one of the amazing People of WBA.