I find it more than a little ironic that the same day I was named one of Linkedin’s top voices on healthcare, I was told by my doctor that I have ovarian cancer. In addition to reeling with how this will impact my personal life, I thought about the impact it will have on my professional life and my business. I knew I had to share it with those most closely involved with the day to day development and management of my software but how would it impact potential and current investors and advisors? I am actively preparing for a second round of funding and worry that the fear the news stirs in me may also be a deterrent to those I will depend on for the future success of my business? Will they view me differently? Will they still trust my ability to lead my company? Will I be seen as strong and competent? I have been told numerous times by supporters that what engages them is the passion I have for supporting patients and their caregivers and that it is my unwavering ability to overcome obstacles that has played such a crucial role in the success I have had to date. But, to date, I have been physically healthy and able to move at a whirlwind pace. No matter how strong my will or resolve, I am not delusional. This will impact things in a way that is yet to be seen but an impact is undeniable. So, I have decided a few things for now:
I will be honest. I firmly believe that one of the most important things a founder does is to set a culture for his or her company. Though my company is young, I have made efforts to have full transparency with those who have supported me and I will continue to do so. I am blessed to have people who have taken risks because they believe in my vision. To most highly honor that, I have to be truthful with them at every turn and that includes sharing the truth that I am human and sometimes vulnerable to things outside of my control. I will be strong and positive when I feel strong and positive and when I feel otherwise, I will call on those I trust to be strong for me and represent and nurture my company. There may be days that all I can do is reinforce this culture but hopefully it will become an important cornerstone of my company and something every future employee embraces.
I will see the silver lining. Although it wasn’t planned, I get a completely new perspective on being a patient battling a disease. I have been lucky to be in the role of supporter and advocate for patients and their families for many years but have rarely been the patient myself. I am grateful for my software platform and think of how helpful it will be to my husband when he is trying to keep everyone updated on how I am doing over the next weeks and months. It will help me keep my healthcare team connected and help me better manage my own care, medications and keep track of important metrics to stay as healthy as I possibly can. I am certain I will learn a great deal about how to make my product even better for others who are going through what I will be experiencing. I also realize this may push me to seek partners for my business sooner than I would have otherwise and that may turn out to be a good thing. Maybe there is somebody out there right now who has successfully taken a med tech company to mass markets and is actively seeking a new opportunity. Maybe rather than deter would be investors, I will attract exactly the people I need to make my vision a reality because the need has become more prominent.
I will grow as a human and as an entrepreneur. I am lucky, the type of cancer I have is slow growing with high curability so I am planning for this to be a bump in the road. I fully intend to get past this and have a healthy, long life but being told you have cancer, changes you forever. It changes you in a way that is different from working in a field where you see how fragile life is every single day. I thought I understood that very clearly, as most healthcare professionals are very aware of that reality. It is different when you are the one who is sick and faced with what seems like a daunting path ahead. When it is you who must muster up the strength to face new obstacles and unknowns that change the way you view yourself and that don’t fit in any way into your plans. It gives new meaning to the often overused term “pivot.” I vow to view this experience as an opportunity to share what I learn and make the process better where it can be improved. I have already been faced with frustrations in communication gaps between care providers and have been abruptly dismissed when I have had questions. I will put what I suggest for others, to be strong advocates, into practice for myself. I will undoubtedly have a completely new understanding and response when a fellow colleague, employee, customer or friend is struggling with a potentially fatal disease and I will sincerely be able to say “I know exactly how you feel.” There is a beautiful strength and overlooked value in that statement.
Founder & CEO alska