Pat Wetzel: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO of CancerRoadTrip
Celebrate Your Successes. Building a business is not easy. There are times when everything seems to click and times when nothing seems to click. It’s about the day to day effort that eventually pays off. Each month I take the time to list all the things that have been accomplished that month. It allows me to see the progress and celebrate it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat Wetzel, the visionary behind CancerRoadTrip.
Her original background after graduating from Wharton Business School was in finance, working in the direct placement market in New York, international strategic planning/acquisition divestiture analysis, and investment advisory services. More recently, she has been involved with a number of startups, including her current one, CancerRoadTrip. In 2009 a supposedly incurable cancer diagnosis sent Pat on a serious quest for what creates health. She realized that her experiences weren’t unique, and she founded the Anti-Cancer Club, a free website of cancer resources. Three rounds of chemo, radiation and surgery ensued over the next several years until remission was realized. It was time for a break.
Thank you for joining us Pat. Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2009, I was diagnosed with supposedly incurable cancer.
I started a website www.AntiCancerClub.com in 2009. The website provided interviews and information about the cancer experience.
I also designed an app that modeled and rewarded compassion, especially through long term illness. I hired a company to create the app. Instead, they took all my Intellectual Property and registered it with the US Patent Office as their own. Then they refused to return my emails, phone calls or letters.
Finally, my lawyers suggested a lawsuit that would cost in increments of $500,000, take three years of my life and had no definitive outcome. Intellectual property theft is apparently common.
Between health, business and legal expenses, I had tens of thousands of dollars of bills to pay. I had to lay people off. One person had to file for bankruptcy. My hair started falling out, not from chemo this time, but from stress. And I started vomiting blood.
I had just been through 5 years of cancer treatments, including three rounds of chemo, radiation and surgery. My oncologist suggested more tests and more treatments.
I simply couldn’t take any more.
I left his office, put my house up for sale and hit the road. I started a new blog, CancerRoadTrip. And somewhere along the way it occurred to me that if I could have a CancerRoadTrip to heal, why couldn’t others.
And that’s how CancerRoadTrip came to be.
We are gearing up to give 7 people impacted by cancer (patients and caregivers) an incredible bucket list trip with leaders in various healing modalities. We capture it all on film for education and inspiration for the entire cancer community. Then we repurpose the film for continuing education about the post-treatment cancer experience. It’s part travel, part kind reality TV and all heart.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
CancerRoadTrip is a unique social entrepreneurship company. Being unique has its positives and negatives.
Our medical system focuses on diagnosis and treatment. It doesn’t address the long term social, psychological, physical and spiritual need to heal. Yet there are 17 million people in the US alone living post-cancer treatment.
Nearly everyone has a cancer story to tell, as a patient, a loved one or as a caregiver. From a business perspective, that emotional connection is a good thing.
But the downside of being unique is that it forces some people to think outside the box, and that can be challenging. I’ve had to learn to be very succinct and somewhat selective in discussing the project. Merging social mission and business can be a delicate balance.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Passion, perseverance and the ability to pivot.
Passion because passion provides daily meaning and motivation.
Perseverance because creating something new takes steady effort.
The ability to pivot because nothing ever goes as planned! The coronavirus is a good example. I’ve had to postpone the retreats a bit. But in the opening that this has created, I’m launching a podcast called Bump In The Road where we talk to inspirational people about how they coped with unforeseen life events. This will help us continue to engage and expand our audience while dealing with the unknowns of the coronavirus and travel.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO/Founder — Please share a story or example for each.
- Everything takes three times as long and costs at least twice as much as you expect. There’s always a bump in the road. Coronavirus, for example, has delayed our retreat for the fall of 2020. I’ve had to pivot from film and travel to creating a podcast -Bump In The Road-to keep our audience engaged while travel is shut down. Anticipate bumps and their costs. They will appear.
- What you focus on grows. Some people will betray you; others will surprise you. This is one hard lesson that I had to learn with the theft of my IP. It sent my entire life into a crisis. And I had to learn to let go. What you focus on grows. I choose to focus on positive, productive things and spend my time accordingly.
- Realistically Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses. I am very entrepreneurial (a strength). My background is in business (Wharton Business School) and I tend to look at macro market opportunities to see possibility. But you need other talents to build a business. In the summer of 2018, I had stalled. I was limited by my own abilities. When I recognized this, things started to move again, as I sought out new people with new skills.
- Fail Fast. You will make mistakes. Make them, learn and move on. I tried enlisting celebrity support from performers who had had cancer. I simply asked if they would give me a 1–3 sentence quote about the impact of travel on their lives.
- Nearly zero interest. It became apparent that at this point in time, this was not the way to go. I closed down that effort and moved on.
- Celebrate Your Successes. Building a business is not easy. There are times when everything seems to click and times when nothing seems to click. It’s about the day to day effort that eventually pays off. Each month I take the time to list all the things that have been accomplished that month. It allows me to see the progress and celebrate it.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have a passion but have balance. You have to be able to turn off business to rejuvenate yourself. You need the time off to remain creative and focused. The coronavirus has forced me to revisit my workday. As a result, I’ve added more time away from the computer, and more time walking (often with my camera). These new habits will be moving forward with me, even after this crisis is resolved.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It is said that Santa Fe either welcomes you or spits you out. I’ve been very fortunate to be welcomed into this community. I’ve met amazing people who have been incredibly generous with their networks and expertise, ranging from award-winning filmmakers and producers to the leader of an amazing and innovative cancer talk series at a local cancer center. Together, these people have all lent their energy and expertise to move this project forward. I’m incredibly thankful.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
My personal and professional interests really merge in CancerRoadTrip. I want to continue to explore people’s stories through film, photography, interviews and writing. Each of these venues offers a unique opportunity to find meaning and mission as one encounters a Bump In The Road. (The podcast should be available on most podcast platforms starting in May 2020).
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My hope is that CancerRoadTrip becomes an integral part of the cancer community and that it continues long after I’m gone. I want people to be excited about each upcoming trip. Even if they don’t get to go, they can live vicariously through the film footage of others.
CancerRoadTrip addresses an untapped market: people post-cancer treatment. They face social, psychological, physical and spiritual issues that our current system cannot address. Through the power of story and film, with the distribution reach of the web, I hope that people will see that the cancer experience can be a portal into a more conscious and meaningful life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
It would be a movement of compassion. Our lives are often so busy and often self-centered. Taking the time to stop and listen to others, to emphasize, can be so meaningful. A kind word can change someone’s day and even their life. Kindness truly matters. I hope that CancerRoadTrip embodies this.
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