Keeping Your Business Going When You Get a Cancer Diagnosis
Launching a business is hard enough. But getting a cancer diagnosis forces you rethink everything.
I'm the co-founder of two brands that lauched in 2020. MASAMI, clean premium haircare with a Japanese ocean botanical, launched in February 2020 at New York Fashion Week. Isle de Nature, luxury bee-powered home fragrance inspired by Dominica, launched in September 2020. Launching during Covid has been challenging, but also rewarding, as we've seen both businesses get traction with new customers, partners and retailers.
In June 2021, I felt an enlarged lymph node under my left arm. My OB/GYN felt that it was caused by the Covid vaccine, as it's become a known side effect. But the breast specialist I saw for a second opinion felt otherwise. And sure enough, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that has traveled to my lymph node.
I immediately went into planning mode and quickly realized that there were several business obligations that would be challenging. First, we were exhibiting at Cosmoprof in Vegas at the end of August, which I was planning on attending. Luckily, my co-founder, James, and my head of content, Kristyn, were able to cover this (plus my husband jumped in to help out).
I can forget about going to America's Beauty Show (which we had booked), not to mention the other conferences and trade shows we had signed on for. We had also booked a trip to Dominica, where we get our beeswax for Isle de Nature, in October. Now that can't happen for at least six months. I haven't cancelled my plans yet to go to Japan in January 2022, but it's highly unlikely that can happen either. Covid has made it extra challenging and risky as my immune system is totally compromised.
"I've spent some time figuring out how I can better disseminate the day-to-day workload"
I also realized I need to better delegate much of my work responsiblities. As a self-aware control freak, this isn't easy. So I've spent some time figuring out how I can better disseminate the day-to-day workload, as there are days when I just have a hard time being productive — either because I'm mentally distracted or just physically spent. We are already a virtual team, so it helps that I don't feel the pressure to go into an office or need to meet up in person.
But beyond the immediate logistics around travel and work priorities, I needed time to mentally process what my next year would look like. I know it will most certainly be a journey and a process. And it won't be fun. Luckily, I have a good treatment plan, a team of experienced professionals and the flexibilty to focus on my health. I also believe that your health is in your hands, so doing my own research (and my friends also doing research) and asking a ton of questions are ways to feel more in control. Fortunately, there are a lot of cancer resources available, starting with the American Cancer Society.
I've had to completely rethink my diet. Eliminate dairy (hard). No more sugar (harder). Cut way back on drinking (hardest). I'm trying to eliminate toxic people in my life, which is much easier now than ever before and something I should have done years ago. As Oprah says, "Surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher." I am trying hard to stay active — lots of walks and yoga. And I'm trying to truly embrace self-care, which is hard for someone who is used to puting everyone else first.
"I realize I don't need to sweat every business detail all the time"
But as I figure this out (like many of the 16.9 million cancer survivors before me), I'm reminded to stay positive. I'm naturally a pretty glass-half-full person, so that's not too hard. This is also a reminder to focus on the important things and give me a chance to reset my priorities. I realize I don't need to sweat every business detail all the time — it really won't matter much in the long run. And I'm lucky that I have a strong support network of family and friends (some who have direct experience with this) to lean on.
Of course I have fears. Will I get through this? How will my body change? Will I feel less feminine? Will I look like an alien bald? Will people's perceptions of me change? Will I really be able to juggle my businesses? What if they fail? I think these questions are a natural part of the journey. The reality is that I will be a different person after cancer. Hopefully, one with an even better outlook and perspective on life.
I plan on updating my progress along the way. Sharing is one way to cope with a difficult situation with the hopes that maybe it will help others who are also dealing with health issues or other challenges. Remember that there are people all around you dealing with mental and physical issues, so leading with empathy is important. Support and understanding go a long way to "normalizing" life's unpredictable challenges.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor