What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Business
Breast cancer is a scary and oftentimes devastating diagnosis. I am not trying to make light of it through business. I am a survivor, a mom, a wife, sister, entrepreneur, friend, and mentor. None of these
Breast cancer is a scary and oftentimes devastating diagnosis. I am not trying to make light of it through business.
I am a survivor, a mom, a wife, sister, entrepreneur, friend, and mentor. None of these titles define me – they are all just part of the “me” that I present to the world. I like to relate everything I experience to a learning, and there have been many lessons on my journey.
So, when relating breast cancer and business, please know it comes from a lessons learned perspective…
My Breast Cancer Story
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2012 at the age of 47. Thankfully, it was caught early.
The doctors were “watching” a spot that had shown up on a scan six months earlier. I also had a biopsy on another part of my breast a year earlier that was “inconclusive.” And at my mammogram, they found a new spot of concern – so, in I went for another biopsy.
I knew. In my gut, I just knew.
When I got the follow-up call from my doctor, I was actually in Macy’s – buying a breast cancer awareness T-shirt to wear to work the next day. It was ironic … I guess.
I answered the phone and the nurse said, “The doctor would like to speak to you.”
When the doctor came on the line, the first thing he said, “I’m so sorry. It’s cancer.” He then continued, “But not to worry. It appears to be DCIS, which is highly treatable. You won’t even need chemo, just a bit of radiation.”
Awesome, I thought to myself. I had already been doing some research and knew DCIS was my best bet in this fight. A lumpectomy was in order, which revealed additional tumors and a diagnosis of the cancer being invasive and HER-2 positive. It was the type that can metastasize.
So, there went the DCIS conversation I hoped to have. Now, we’re discussing mastectomies and chemotherapy, along with a year of treatment, genetic testing and family history.
My sister died from breast cancer that metastasized to her lungs and bones. My mom and both my brothers died from pancreatic cancer.
The BRCA test was negative, so this wasn’t hereditary. There wasn’t really a “reason” for this. It was just breast cancer. And, it was all mine!
So, I had some choices to make … and I made them. I was going to fight. I was going to survive. And finally, I was going to thrive.
And in making these choices, there were so many lessons I learned along the way – personally and professionally. Here’s seven of those lessons that breast cancer taught me that I can compare to business.
Lesson No. 1: Understand your competition, but don’t get distracted by it.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I read everything there was to know about it. I learned how the cells divided, how it was “typed,” what all the terminology meant, and how the medications worked. I learned what I was dealing with. No rumors, no emotions, just the facts.
In business, you need to know your competition. Read about your competitors. How do they operate? What markets are they in? What is their reputation? How do they respond to their business environment?
Know who and what you are dealing with in your market. Don’t get distracted or discouraged by the information, but use it to strengthen your business plan.
Lesson No. 2: Have a plan.
By understanding my breast cancer – type, stage, and family’s history – I was able to not only make sound and focused decisions, but I was also able to see the disease for what it was. Nothing more, nothing less.
This understanding gave me the information I needed to make a plan. With the doctors’ input and my knowledge, I created my strategy for survival plan: mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, biotherapy, nutrition counseling, and survival. I was an active part of the treatment plan and had a strategy to fight the disease on my terms!
In business, having a plan gives you that same roadmap, focus and clarity. Combining this focus with knowledge of the competition and market allows you to focus effectively to mitigate your competitive risks. The plan provides the strategy to move your company forward, on your terms, and with your eyes wide open.
Make your plan, follow it, and choose your success.
Lesson No. 3: Know your numbers.
OK, now on to fighting cancer. You should know your numbers.
I knew my weekly blood count (WBC) because it affected whether or not I could have chemo. At one point my WBC was below 1. That’s a really bad number, which essentially meant that I was not supposed to leave my house because the risk of infection was too great. It also meant a week without chemo, which was not ideal.
However, I understood my numbers. I understood the staging of my cancer. I understood what each number meant and why it was important to my success in fighting this cancer. I knew what steps to take when my numbers were going in the wrong direction.
It’s the exact same in business. You have to know your numbers to grow your numbers. Know your key metrics. Review them and understand the effect they are having on your success and understand how to affect those numbers. Know what each number means. Are you doing well? Not so well? Understand and investigate the cause and effect of your financials and data to know how to effect positive change in your business. And, make swift changes when required.
Lesson No. 4: Be fearless! Don’t let fear determine your future. Ever.
My doctors and nurses would make comments to me like “Really? No side effects at all? No tingling? No nausea? No pain?” Then, I would say with a chuckle, “No! I think you are giving me a placebo.”
The truth is that I never “feared” the cancer. I faced it head on. I figured, I have cancer, and that’s the truth in this moment. So, what are my options? Fighting it. That was the only option.
In business, we can be afraid to fail, afraid to disappoint, afraid to lose, and even afraid to succeed. But, we have to look at the potential outcome of what it is that we are so fearful of. Then, make a decision to walk through it.
Fear is debilitating. Do whatever it takes to face your fears and move through them. Be fearless every day, and change your future.
Lesson No. 5: Be purposeful and intentional.
The truth is, life throws us curve balls. I thought my family’s history of cancer was a result of their unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking. Well, the universe sure took my arrogance for a ride!
You can do everything right, it doesn’t mean it will turn out as you expect. Understanding your purpose allows you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward.
So have a purpose. Choose your path. Choose to live your life and build your world consciously and intentionally, from that purpose. Make conscious choices. Decide what it is you want for yourself, your life, your family. And then, do what it takes to make it happen.
In business, purpose keeps you focused and sustainable. Purpose helps you to pick yourself up after a major setback or failure. Purpose drives both vision and behaviors. Know your purpose and build your strategy, customer focus, and employee culture around that purpose. It will drive your success!
Lesson No. 6: Put yourself and your family first.
Cancer reminds us of what is truly important. At the end of the day, our life and how we live it matters. It matters to our health, to our family, and to our “selves.” Our selves require love, attention and care. Our family deserves the same. But, without the care we need for ourselves, it is impossible to provide our families with what they need.
The rest is just a distraction.
When it comes to business, this is the conversation I like to have with my clients … It’s not life or death! Don’t sweat it. In the big scheme of things, it’s just cupcakes! Or, it’s just furniture! Or, it’s just consulting! The truth is that whatever “it” is will be there tomorrow to be corrected, managed, or just simply to let go of. Take a breath, take a break, and keep your perspective!
Lesson No. 7: Be grateful for the journey and help others along the path.
I believe in the journey. I believe that it is all there for a reason, even breast cancer. I learned from it. I respect it, and I am grateful for it.
The lessons have been powerful. I have met amazing people on my breast cancer journey, and am blessed to be able to use my experience to help other women along the way.
In business, it is the same. The journey continues to be amazing. I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. Many were very difficult. There were even a few failures on the path, and a lot of learning!
Now, my path is an intentional path. It includes my values of making a difference and helping others. I have worked hard, learned a lot, met amazing people, and gained valuable insights.
This experience is used daily to help my clients and my employees, and even (especially) those coming behind me.
And, I am grateful. Grateful for the journey, the lessons, the people, and the path. Even grateful for the breast cancer. Because now it contributes to the “me” that I am blessed to be.
Photo by Taina Sohlman