Be the Boss Over Cancer

When you're diagnosed with cancer, it's important to think about how you'll handle your business before you share the news with clients or peers. The news is scary enough, so anticipate what you want to say and how you want to say it. Here are some tips that might help if you're self-employed.

-- Be Ready for Reactions: I wasn't sure how some clients or business associates would react to the news. Early on, I realized that some people bring their own experiences with cancer—good and bad—to the table. Some of my long-time clients were genuinely affected by the news and I believe, wanted to do what they could to help me work through this. Clearly they cared about me which I appreciated. And because they cared, I didn't want cancer to get in the way of their success either.

-- Talk to a Trusted Peer: These can be emotionally heady times and I found it helpful to talk to a few trusted PR colleagues with their own business who could help me take a step back and look at the big “business” picture. One suggested I should be “all in or all out” when it comes to work. While I initially scoffed at his advice, the essence is true. Cancer or not, protect your reputation and don't do anything to jeopardize it. Peers might also have an idea of how others in your situation have acted.

--No Decision Can Be the Best Decision: Don't feel like you need to make a decision immediately regarding your business. Sometimes the best decision is no decision. If you're taking chemo, go through a treatment or two and see how your body responds. But have options in case you need to make changes to your business. Perhaps you can work from Midnight to 3 a.m. Especially if you're a writer. For me, while I operated around a “24/7 news cycle,” working that way on a day to day basis would not have worked as well for me or my clients.

--Talk to Your Docs: Wait until you know what your treatment will involve before sharing with clients or peers. Talk to your doctors about every possible health scenario, the timeline for treatment and when you might expect to be at your lowest points. Before starting treatment have a Plan A and B at the ready.

You should definitely have a conversation with doctors about the treatment side effects and how they could affect your ability to work. I heard one oncologist recently say that he asks the patient, “What do YOU want to do,” then he sees his role as support for that decision. I think that's a great model. Ultimately, you know your work best. Think hard about whether you can do it all, or do it sometimes, or not do it at all if that's possible.

--Know your Finances: If you're self employed, start getting your ducks in a row after your diagnosis so you can understand your options. That means having all the financial data and resources on which to base your decisions. It turns out my accountant had a lot of experience not only in advising small business owners but those with a major illness. He turned out to be a valuable resource. Your lawyer, benefits coordinator, financial planner might also be good ears to bend.

--What's Your Message: Be confident, clear and honest. That said, your client may not need to know that you're having 12 dense doses of “AC” chemo. This is where the balance between “need to know” and being transparent comes into play. If you're talking to a client, write down your message and practice saying it. Practice is important, because it may be hard to talk about your diagnosis at first, without you or your audience becoming emotional. We're all human, but I think the goal is to stay focused and project confidence that work will continue (or not, depending on what you choose). But most importantly, you want to convey that there's some sort of plan.

What might be important for your clients to know is the general length of your treatment(s), what your plans are for working (full-time, part-time) and what will happen if/when you are unavailable.

Jennifer Moire is a public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C./St. Louis area, and currently blogs about her experiences with cancer at

Read more of Jennifer's story on her next blog on 10/18!


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