Cancer challenges life & business

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We’ve been working with a business coach for a while now and 2019 was set to be Primate’s year of exceptional growth. We’d laid the foundations, workshopped, changed mindset, reinvigorated our team, lined up a new office and adapted our brand. But on the 21st December, Winter Solstice, the longest day, my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive metastatic head and neck cancer.

The excitement of planning our fantastic turnkey year in business fell away as my focus rerouted onto Keith (husband) and keeping him alive and well. He needed all of my energy as we battled through Christmas and New Year with joy and misery, fear, his physical pain and a barrage of pinpointing diagnostic tests.

In the month of January Keith and I learnt incredible wealths about cancer, hospital car parking, our fantastic friends, medical procedures, the strength of our family, drugs and their impact. In the month of January Gordon, Bart and I learnt what impact losing one of the three of us would elicit on the business.

A new normal

In January Keith had surgery and various biopsies, the team identified the primary source of his cancer. We met his Oncologist, Speech and Language Therapist, had a long dental appointment in preparation for treatment, IVF planning, and met with Macmillan Cancer Support on the instruction of our lead Nurse to help navigate some of the challenges. Hospital life became our new normal.

On 1 February Keith started treatment in earnest, the NHS did not hang around with his care.

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Keith under a favourite blanket from home, on Chemo hour 49 of 156 in the Western General

Not everything is manageable

“Linda politely but unapologetically told me that I could not project manage cancer.”

Linda was right, unsurprisingly. Despite my best efforts, the detailed note taking, programming Alexa to provide drug prompts, rallying cleaners, friends, dog-sitters. It’s impossible to manage a process that’s reliant on cells, medicines, a body’s ability to survive a thorough poisoning and the myriad of side effects that accompany such exceptional but such gruelling treatments.

The Cancer back up plan

When you’re wrapped in business, servicing a great client portfolio with the flair and fun of creative output it’s easy! You prepare for things that seem likely; challenges in the market, the possibility of parenthood, changes in staff. Why would anyone running a business in their 30s have a ‘life-threatening-illness’ back up plan. I believe many agencies we know and a good number of our SME clients — perhaps even the larger ones — would be in the same position.

“Cancer has revealed that our business has significant vulnerabilities and a lack of emergency planning. I don’t believe we’re alone in this”

As individuals we might have critical care life insurance, a nest egg, the ability to adapt to life as a single salary household. But, despite being a business without debt and a healthy bank balance, a drop in sales and output can take hold and dent a company quickly.

The adaptation

The need to nimbly adapt and take charge was key and this vision was not something I could bring to the situation. It required the guys, without whom I would not be the support Keith needs me to be. Business partners, friends, thoroughly decent human beings; I’m so lucky to have Gordon and Bart on my team.

Gordon and Bart have both shifted roles to accommodate but the reality is that my workload has inevitably spread across the business. Our team of 12 has shouldered every aspect of my role, perhaps imperfectly but in exactly the way we required and with immediacy. It wasn’t managed it was handled but we have been able to adapt.

Changed but better

No part of our company remains unchanged. Client management, communication, staff morale, project timelines, meeting dates, office cleanliness and the readiness of hand sanitiser have all been impacted by cancer. As the owner of the office dog we’ve even lost the calming influence of padded feet!

We’ve been honest with all of our clients who have live project work in the studio. We still have plans to achieve our kick-ass turnkey year but it will be weighted towards the latter two quarters. We won’t stop producing spectacular work.

On reflection I am exceptionally proud of our agency, culture and ethics. Despite the enormous impact cancer has had on our business we’ve put the individual first and coped. We starkly contrast my husband’s multi-million pound retail employer who have been so poor in their support that we’ve had to draw on a third party to encourage them to be less shitty.

Keith’s cancer is wonderfully, thankfully, curable, he just cashed in that ‘in sickness and health’ vow bloody early! Primate’s ability to adapt to help me cope too, means we’ll all be stronger for it.


A rather awesome, informative and witty blog about all…

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