Confessions of a “Reluctant” Entrepreneur or “How ‘Cancer’ Inspired Me to Start My Own Business!"
The title of this story may seem a little bit unusual, however, I’m going to attempt to explain why I call it this and my hope is that my story will inspire others to uncover and pursue their goals and dreams. I hesitated posting it publically because its personal nature, however, it is a story of transformation which can also be applied in any business or personal situation.
Before I start, I must confess, when I started to write this, I was unaware of Michael Masterson’s book entitled “The Reluctant Entrepreneur,” and only stumbled across it when I was conducting an internet search on a similar topic. I feel as if I need to give him credit for his work, however, and, while I haven’t read his book yet, it’s on my “reading list.” From the little bit I’ve seen of it so far, there may be some parallels to my message.
I am a two-time breast cancer survivor. I’m living proof that breast cancer is not always a death sentence. The first diagnosis was on September 11, 2001. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, but I faithfully had the yearly mammograms; which were always “fine;” until the last mammogram revealed a problem which later proved to be cancer.
My doctor told me it was at “stage a” and would need surgery, probably radiation followed by the drug tamoxifen for five years; that chemotherapy was not necessary. After the surgery, the surgeon told me that he had “gotten it all,” and confirmed the first diagnosis.
Upon consultation with the first medical oncologist, however, a “red flag” went up when I was told one of the possible side effects of tamoxifen could be uterine cancer. It didn’t make sense to me to take a drug that might possibly cause another type of cancer.
I consulted with two other oncologists; the second one said the same thing; at this point four doctors, two of whom were medical oncologists, concurred. However, the third oncologist was different. He said to me, “Do you know you still have cancer and you need more surgery?” I was shocked as I said “no.” He continued, “Well, apparently my esteemed colleagues in the medical oncology field never read your pathology report.”
He disagreed with the recommended course of treatment. He felt that chemotherapy was necessary; however, it was up to me when it came to the treatment. At that point I asked him to be my doctor. A second lumpectomy was scheduled shortly afterwards. I had the chemotherapy and radiation treatments and was cancer free for over ten years. This man was my doctor for over ten years and literally saved my life. I always tell people to get a second, third... even fourth opinion. Trust those "red flags!"
I realized through this experience, that there were some things that I might have done differently in my life. I shared some of these thoughts in my story entitled “Choose Your Children’s Childhood Over Work” published in Bill Jensen’s book, What is Your Life’s Work? I say, “My career was the most important thing to me. I left my children with babysitters, as there weren’t the kind of daycare services available then as there are today. I hardly remember anything about their childhood other than rushing them out of bed in the morning, rushing to the babysitter, rushing to work, picking them up at the end of the day, and then rushing them into bed, and repeating the process the next day. When they were sick, I couldn’t take off of work to stay home with them, so they were bundled up and went to the sitter. I was always busy; never had time for them. I rushed them to grow up and be independent.”
I learned that there were some parts of my life where my priorities might have been “mixed up. This experience showed me how easy it is to get distracted by the competing demands of personal and professional life and miss sight of the things that are truly important. I needed to learn to find the balance that would work for me in meeting the daily challenges of personal and professional relationships.
At this point it was the summer of 2002, I was unemployed and it was a tough job market. I think that the term, “being in ‘transition’” is a way to make people who are out of work feel better about it. In a way, it might be a way to put a more “positive spin” on it, but the fact remains… you’re still unemployed and there’s still the societal stigma attached to it. It took about two years before I was able to find and accept a temporary position. That “temporary” assignment lasted nine months. After it ended I accepted another “temporary” position which lasted a year. After which I was hired by the same company for the job. In the beginning I was very happy with this position… it was my “dream” job. I was an executive with this company and I loved what I did. I had the opportunity to work on managing numerous and diverse projects, as well as developing, designing and delivering training classes on a variety of interesting subjects. I worked for this company for a total of five years, and then in 2010 the position was eliminated.
The job market in 2010 was even worse than it was in 2002 and I was unemployed again. At this point I had over 30 years’ experience in my chosen field. I began another job search and went on numerous interviews which always seemed to go “well.” When I left the interviews I always felt certain that I “had the job,” and it’s interesting that I consistently received the same feedback; that another candidate was selected who was a “better fit.”
The job-search process can be extremely frustrating; it’s a constant, never-ending roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, hope and rejection; and it’s critical for anyone who is going through it to stay “positive” at all times. I refused to accept any of the “excuses” my mind would “create” as to “why” and move on to the next potential employer. I volunteered my time to help other people who were also looking for work and kept my skills current by presenting job-search workshops to other people who were unemployed as well as participating in other volunteer activities in the community.
After about a year of continuous job searching, interviews, rejections, etc., something interesting happened; I began to get “calls” from individuals who wanted to “hire” me as their “coach,” or I’d get a call from a “client” who would ask me to deliver a training program at their company. The next thing that happened was that I was hired as an adjunct professor to teach at a community college. Small amounts of “work” started “showing up.”
Then, in January of 2012, I experienced an “instant replay” of 2001; there was a problem with the mammogram, which after a biopsy revealed cancer. This was not a relapse of what I had in 2001, but a completely different type; and it required that I have a mastectomy.
As I was leaving the cancer center, after scheduling the first chemotherapy treatment, one tear rolled down my cheek and I said to myself… “That’s it! You’ve felt sorry for yourself long enough. Now let’s concentrate on what we can do something about.” Shortly after completing the chemotherapy I tested positive for the BRAC2 mutation gene. So far four women in my family have tested and three of them are also positive; including both of my daughters.
During the entire time I was still looking for a job, going on interviews and teaching my class at the community college; in fact, I was back in my classroom teaching one week post-op and I even taught a couple of classes for one of my clients. Although I was very self-conscious of having to wear wigs, I’m confident that none of the people who were interviewing me at the time suspected that I was undergoing chemotherapy... although I always wondered if they may have picked up some “unconscious” signals… there’s no way to know for sure.
Approximately three weeks after I completed the chemotherapy I was asked to speak at a businesswomen’s group on self-empowerment. My presentation was extremely well received by the women at this group. Not long after that I was invited to speak on the same subject at two other women’s leadership conferences and in both instances the participants found my presentations extremely enlightening and applicable to their businesses, careers and lives. At this writing I have undergone six operations within a little more than a two-year time period. I had a second mastectomy, purely as a precautionary measure because of the BRCA2 condition, and have completed the reconstruction process. I am cancer free and feel great.
When I was going through the chemotherapy treatments this second time, something that I can’t explain “happened” to me; all I can say is that I woke up “different” one morning and my situation took on a completely different focus. I suddenly “saw” everything, life, business, career – differently. I realized that by trying to find another job I was trying to re-create my comfort zone and that I was missing unlimited possibilities. I concluded that the best way for me to have the perfect job would be for me to create it myself. So, instead of looking for a job in another company that would be a right “fit” for me, I decided to empower myself by forming my own company (Champions for Success, LLC); thereby, creating my own job which is a perfect “fit” for me.
I felt a strong “passion,” desire and drive to share these concepts that I applied throughout my life, career and fighting cancer, to empower others the way in which I learned to “empower” myself. I adapted my own leadership model, “Power vs. Perception: Ten Critical Characteristics for Self-Empowerment for Leadership,” to some of the specific issues that women face in the workplace and society and wrote the book entitled, “Power vs. Perception: Ten Characteristics of Self-Empowerment for Women.” An interesting “aside” is that the men who have read it have said that it’s for “everyone” and not “just” women.
Combined with my faith, the characteristics and tools presented in this book are what carried me through these experiences in my life. They are not easy to apply; however, whenever I am faced with the next challenge, the question I ask myself is: “Is there anything I can do about this right now, this minute?” If the “answer” is “yes,” then I “do it.” If the answer is “no,” then I tell myself I have to “accept” it, move on and find something that I can “do” something about. In a nutshell… that is self-empowerment. However, it’s not always an easy thing to do. However, I realize that if I can overcome cancer twice, there’s no obstacle that cannot be overcome in business… no matter what, whether it’s a slow economy, difficult relationships or any other business or personal obstacle that a business or individual might be facing a solution can be found. My hope is that my experiences will inspire others to do the work that needs to be done for his or her self-empowerment to become “unstoppable” in living their dreams and creating their success!”
In reality, I found out on September 11, 2001 that I had breast cancer and I always felt it was not a coincidence; but helps me put things in perspective. The people who went to work that day thought they’d be going home that night. They didn’t, I’m still here and I’m here for a purpose… to increase awareness and inspire others. It showed me that one never knows what’s going to happen in one day; that tomorrow is promised to no one and we need to make the best of every day we’re given. I realized that everyone is going to die one day. The real tragedy is those who are walking around with a “pulse” and “breathing” but they’re already “dead” because they’re miserable. I say, let’s concentrate on life and living.