Following the initial days of shock, incredibly I started to feel huge relief that the pressure I’d been putting myself under for years would finally have to stop. I had naively thought that co-owning a business would give me a better work-life balance, but it had grown so quickly that it was like having another urgent mouth to feed.
Before my diagnosis, Max had been born prematurely and I had found myself having to work, huddled next to his incubator. During that time, I felt absolutely torn in two – guilty for not doing anything properly.
While I went through cancer treatment – a single mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – I felt, more strongly than ever, that I had to start a new life for myself. So I sold my share of the business and took a year out. I travelled and read lots of books – but I also grieved for my business and the people I used to work with. I loved spending more time with Eddy and the boys, but I was only 40 and wasn’t ready to retire.
I started to get calls from clients wanting me to work for them on their brand strategy – the work I’d always done. Knowing my workaholic tendencies, Eddy and my friends begged me not to start a business, but I thought long and hard and decided that I had more to give: only this time, I would do things differently.
When facing a cancer diagnosis, you don’t have any control over your situation, which made me realise that I could control other areas of my life, including my approach to work. So I decided to keep it very simple and employ just a handful of staff.
With my new company, The Honest Brand, it’s not about working the longest hours or making myself respond to emails at 11pm or 5am. I make time for yoga, and pre-lockdown I was already working from home one day a week. I would do school drop-offs and pick-ups a few times a week, and was able to help Max with his homework.
I have now partnered with a larger global company and we are expanding with offices in Dubai and New York. It turns out that my new rules make me much more productive but less ‘busy’. I set boundaries with my clients, take time to plan, strategise and delegate smartly – I’m now earning more, but crucially I have more time, too.
Last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again. My mastectomy was delayed due to Covid-19, but recently it went ahead and, for now, I’m cancer-free. All I’ve been through has made me able to focus on the positive, and live in the now. For the past four months, the four of us have worked from our kitchen table in London, enjoying the small joys of these dark times. Fortunately, my new way of working means my team was already set up flexibly to do the same.
I’m hopeful that at the end of this, we will all appreciate life, the NHS, and the value of our health more, so that we all go on to lead richer lives. Having breast cancer is scary, but it’s actually scarier to think, what if I hadn’t had it… I would never have achieved the life I have now.