RUNNING A BUSINESS THROUGH ILLNESSAug 27, 2020
In 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that point I had owned my businesses for almost 10 years. I wasn’t ready for cancer. I was 38 years old with two young kids and businesses in three countries, there was no time for cancer.
I wasn’t ready for the impact that it would have on me, my business or my team.
When we first set up a company, we are so preoccupied with getting it up and running, that the prospect of illness or not being able to make an income, would never ever be one of those events that we plan for. We think: “I’ve got an idea; I’m going to create a product or service and I’ll have a successful company.” Easy peasy right? But we never think about what would happen, if all of a sudden, we can’t work. Well that happened to me eight years ago. Completely unexpected.
At that point, I had been living in Dubai for three years and had successfully pulled my businesses out from the 2008 recession. Things were looking up. Until June 2012 happened. One Thursday morning, I sat in the doctor’s office and he told me that the lump they had removed from my breast a week earlier was cancer. Luckily, they had managed to get it all out, but I needed to undergo 32 days of radiotherapy treatment as soon as possible.
What happened after then was a blur. I was in denial. I still didn’t believe that I could have cancer. I didn’t want to rest because that would mean defeat. What did I do? I took my kids to school each morning then drove over to the hospital for 8am radiotherapy appointments. Once I finished at the hospital by around 8.45am, I drove to the office and worked until I couldn’t work any longer. I was exhausted. I wasn’t really focusing, but I was determined to show up and not let cancer beat me. My team knew, but not one of my clients had an idea about what I was going through – so the pressure and the expectations were still there. As the radiation worked its way through my body, and my skin went darker, I still showed up, every single day. In reality, I should have been at home in bed or spending my time meditating and reading books.
Looking back now, I realise that I dealt with this in the completely wrong way. I was not smart, and I risked my health and the health of my business, because I didn’t want to be defeated by cancer.
What happens if you can’t work? Who will take care of things? Make sure that you have other people in your business that can do the work. You focus on leading, not on doing. Have a contingency for illness. Whether you are struck down by a really bad flu or a longer-term illness, such as cancer, have a plan.
Empower your employees – a good leader empowers their employees. I learned especially during this period that I had to let go. When people are given trust and responsibility, they will often surprise you. Of course they won’t do things the way that you do, but they might do it in a different way, that could be even better than the way you do it.
Find someone to talk to. I made this mistake. I didn’t. I pushed on through and felt that I didn’t need anyone to talk to. I was fine I thought. I pushed the thoughts of “what if they missed something and I die young leaving my kids to be orphans” to the back of my mind. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised that I had trauma from this, and it was holding me back at work.
Self-care – I know we have to work and no one understands what the life of an entrepreneur is like. I felt frustrated hearing from doctors that I needed to take time off and take a break. But you really do. Really – take time off and give your body time to heal. You will then come back stronger than ever.
Insurance – I know money is tight in the beginning of a new business, but a good health insurance policy is what helped me recover quicker. My health insurance paid for everything in full, no questions asked. No fighting with the insurance company, I just needed to focus on going to my appointments. It makes a big difference, because you do not have the energy to do anything else.
Keep a nest egg - As an entrepreneur, we should always have enough to cover our operating expenses for at least three months if we can’t work. I know in the beginning this is hard, but it’s so important to make sure that you have enough money in the business if for some reason, you as one of the key workers, isn’t able to work. It’s tempting when you see the money rolling in to want to drop it on a new car or a 5* holiday in the Maldives, but it is so important to have the cash in your business to cover things if you can’t work for a while.
We all need to be prepared for the unexpected when we’re entrepreneurs. If you have a plan in place, and employees that you trust to manage the business when you’re not in the office, this makes it so much easier for you to spend the time to recuperate and come back even stronger than before.