Key Business Advice from Cancer Survivor Entrepreneurs

February 04, 2020

Today, on World Cancer Day 2020, we celebrate entrepreneurs who survived cancer and decided to not give up on their dreams. We celebrate resilience, bravery, determination, and above all, life. Life of entrepreneurs who beat the odds and have proven to all of us that business can and should be humane.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. These cancer survivor entrepreneurs are the very best of skilled sailors. The type you’d want to guide you through scary storms. Because they know how to ride the big waves and come out as winners.

We talked with Kiki, Sarah and Mila – three wonderful and extremely courageous humans who draw survival inspiration from entrepreneurship. Their journeys taught them valuable lessons that they now want to share with you.

How being diagnosed with cancer affects business

Mila, founder of Mila&Such

I started the company when I got sick and I wanted to start making scarves. I wanted to create something with positive vibes, and many told me the paintings made them feel good and happy. I also wanted that energy covering my head when I found out I will need chemo and will be losing my hair.

I actually drew and illustrated my little graphic novel while going through treatment. Creating and painting was a great outlet.

Also, I am a taurus, LOL. I am super stubborn and determined. My friends are super supportive and encouraging. I have the best friends who are able to offer great constructive criticism and I am always open to learning and trying to improve.

Kiki, founder of Kiki Kirby Coaching

Finding out I had cancer came as a complete shock as I had spent 3 years building my business and it was running at a good pace. We were starting to do business online and going global. I felt so disappointed and frustrated I was not able to create the goals and vision I had planned. 

Just before I was diagnosed, I was running two online group coaching programmes which I still continued with as this helped me still feel like I had purpose and I guess I just wanted to try have some normality. The support and encouragement I received from my clients was so amazing.

At times I did feel like I was missing out on so much in the everyday world of business and it has taken me a long to get over this. I had to keep reminding myself I was fighting cancer and my life was a gift and I was grateful that I had a good support system and amazing doctors and nurses taking care of me.

Sarah, founder of Halcyon Naturals

Halcyon Naturals is 1 years old. The brand has come about on my journey of recovery and remission. After having a stressful life as an Executive Assistant as well as a freelance Tour Manager and Promoter, I have dedicated myself to being more mindful of my self care as well as the rituals that entails. For me, this was candles. I wanted a brand that could give therapeutic benefits rather than just smell nice, which is how this brand was born.

Quitting business

Mila

I never thought about quitting. I consider this to be something that is as much a part of me as my need to create. I feel I make a little bit of difference in the world and make someone smile when they open up their box and read the inspiration.

Kiki

Interestingly, during my cancer journey and even coming back to work the thought of closing my business hadn’t crossed my mind, if anything it pushed me harder to create the business even stronger and bigger. 

But in January 2019 I had returned back to work full time, my health was still very up and down as I was only 8 months in remission. The following months were tough probably even harder than fighting cancer and I felt so many things had changed within me, my focus, my emotions and what I enjoyed doing in work and the work I delivered. I had rushed a lot of business decisions because I felt I had missed out. 

In October 2019, I had thought to close the business. I was tired, and I was still getting used to my ‘new life after cancer’ which I am still now adapting to. I had lost 6 friends to cancer during the year whom I had shared the cancer journey, and the grief and guilt hit me in many ways. 

After many conversations with loved ones, my consultant and my psychologist we had agreed it wouldn’t be the right thing for me to close and to see for myself how far I had come. Instead, we worked together to see how I could change my business module, my daily routine and my focus to make sure it supported my health daily which is my number 1 priority. This is still work in progress and continues to be daily.

Courage and taking risks

Mila

After surviving cancer I’m definitely more courageous with risk taking. It’s hard to explain the fear you have of actual dying when faced with the diagnoses. Any challenges you face after that are just that for me… challenges that I know I can overcome. *cause dude had cancer.

I realized when I was going through this that one of my fears was to just die and be forgotten. Forgotten without making an impact or changing anything for the better. So this is my way to make a difference. I would love to get to a place where my business is super profitable and I can donate more.

Kiki

My natural personality is to take risks and live and enjoy life to the fullest daily (which I still do). But now I really need stability, security daily and not be as adventurous as I was before.  This is getting better I think over time and approaching life daily with intent and focus. I thrive more to be at home in my environment and not wanting to make big lifestyle changes. I do feel this will change as I heal more through the journey. I am more calculated with my decisions taking into consideration so many areas.

Sarah

In terms of taking risks, I’ve always been a risk taker. I don’t see this as a risk personally,  but I can say that post treatment I take more calculated risks. My life was very intense and could change direction in a heartbeat. That no longer motivates me. I’m more interested in building a legacy and preserving my peace. This meant I had to cut off certain people, change careers and focus on what was important to me, rather than working like a dog for others.

On how cancer (re)shapes entrepreneurs

Mila

It made me stronger, more determined, more empathetic. I am harder on myself as far as making excuses of why I can’t. I always feel like I will run out of time and won’t finish what I started. Definitely PTSD  there. 

Kiki

Transformational in a BIG way, I had always appreciated life, health and purpose before cancer but now I am even more grateful for EVERYTHING. I mean everything!

Removing stress from your daily life is so important and vital to everyday happiness. More resilience and perseverance. These were always important but even more so now. 

 I feel having the right support and foundations in your business are so important (financially security, staff, resources, spiritual, creating a business that if you were out could still run). Doing less and slowing down have been a huge lesson for me. Only focusing on a few things, not 5 million things to do. 

 It is ok to change your vision and navigate another way. Every step counts, the ones you take and the ones you don’t.

Sarah

I have always been an entrepreneur. Cancer was a moment in my life but it in no way defines who I am as a person or who I am as an entrepreneur.

On what entrepreneurs who haven’t been through such hardships should know

Mila

Never listen to your excuses of why you can’t, because trust me, it isn’t what you think it is if you have a general good and healthy life.

Listen to others when you are unsure…but at the end, you are in charge and you know what is best for your body and for your business. I feel it is in a way an expansion of who you are, especially if it is a create kind. 

Trust your intuition 100%. Push though the uncomfortable. Never ever stop when things get uncomfortable, because this is the best and hardest part of life and business. When you are uncomfortable you are actually growing…and that’s what you always want.

Kiki

Move through your struggles to avoid your struggles. Be respectful of those who have had health challenges, cancer, grief, mental health etc. You don’t know how hard their struggle has been. If someone says NO who has had a health challenge, don’t keep pushing them, they know their own limits. 

Appreciate your life and health daily. Make sure you don’t work so hard that it impacts your health. You only live once. Be more compassionate and appreciate people and how you interact daily with them. You don’t know what people are going through and suffering. Be kind and let go of things that don’t serve you, even if this is also people and relationships.

Sarah

Your peace is paramount. It’s not unusual for us to work all the hours God sends in order to achieve our goals. It’s just as important to rest as it is to work and self care rituals are very important in helping you to maintain this.

Offering hand to everyone fighting cancer right now

Mila

Be kind to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of true belief in humanity’s kindness. Be informed but don’t obsess and don’t self diagnose… It is the worst thing you can do and build so much anxiety. Anxiety causes all sorts of bad decision making because you are not thinking clearly. 

Kiki

Find JOY everyday (even in the small things). Focus on the everyday and be totally present.

Find those who can fight your journey with you. Don’t give up no matter how bad it is. Believe you will get healed. Work on your mindset daily. Do the development personally and professionally. It’s ok to let go of the life you thought you would have. Get the right support and don’t fight it alone. Pray daily. Express your worries and concerns and have FAITH daily.  You can’t be responsible for someone else’s emotions only your own.

Sarah

It’s your journey. Don’t let anyone else dictate what is right and wrong for you at this time. It’s also a very personal journey, don’t feel the need to share your experiences with everyone. People will show themselves at this time and you will quickly learn who is for you and who is just along for the ride.

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

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