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How This Entrepreneur Coped With Tragedy While Running a Business

This story appears in the January 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Barry Foot
Image Credit: Illustrations by Alexandra Compain-Tossier

When Barry Foot purchased his Richmond Hills, Ontario, unit of CruiseShipCenters with his father, Harold, in 2003, he thought his ship had come in. Barry and his wife, Mary, had always loved —now they would be able to share that passion with others and get paid for it. It was a dream come true, and Barry and Harold purchased a second Ontario franchise the following year.

But in June 2005, Mary was diagnosed with Stage IV . Within a month, she had a modified radical mastectomy. She endured multiple rounds of and radiation. Meanwhile, Barry continued to run the business as best he could while looking after their two sons. He also wanted to create new memories for their family—and that's when cruising came to the rescue.

Because ships have onboard doctors, Mary was able to travel after she completed her chemotherapy. When the couple wanted to get away, Barry would contact the cruise line and make sure the doctor was comfortable handling Mary's care, which mainly included keeping her hydrated and maintaining a watchful eye for signs of fever or infection. Their younger son enjoyed the sunshine and onboard camps while Mary rested in her stateroom, joining her family for meals and afternoons by the pool. Barry kept the business going from wherever he was, relying on an office manager and a team of 18 independent consultants.

Mary died in January 2009. During her illness, Barry had promised to take up the cause of raising funds to fight cancer. He planned the first Cruise for the Cure the year after her death. He set up a one-week Caribbean voyage, with a portion of each cabin price donated to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. That first year, he raised more than $4,000. As of the 2015 cruise in March, the event—now a companywide effort—had cumulatively raised more than $110,000 for breast cancer research.

Barry says Cruise for the Cure has been instrumental in his grieving process and in the growth of his company, which now comprises 30 independent contractors. He says Mary's illness changed his entire approach to business and life.

"I tell people that when you say you're going to wait to do something, you don't know what tomorrow will bring," he explains. "Therefore, you need to do what you need to do now to enjoy things with your family."

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