Business artists are independent professionals and thought leaders….they yearn to bring integrity and creativity to all the work they do.


~ Jeffrey Davis

I proudly call myself a business artist, a term I learned as a member of Jeffrey Davis’ Tracking Wonder Quest. One of Jeffrey’s precepts is that DIT (Do It Together) beats DIY (Do It Yourself). I’ve learned that and so much more from him and other Quest members.

Among those things: that being a solopreneur does not mean doing everything alone; that I can both keep an eye on the bottom line and to do my work with full integrity; that marketing need not rely on slick, meaningless messages; that I can align what I do with who I am; that it’s the irreplaceable “me” that engages and helps clients; that my unique way of being is what my patch of the planet needs.

All of this has lifted me up and encouraged me to do things I might otherwise not have tried. Thank you, Jeffrey and my Quest packmates.

So what happens to my business when my unique self, the founder and principal at Keys to Change, encounters a major health challenge? Not just a cold or flu, but breast cancer? That’s what this post is about.

How I am Lucky

I am lucky. I have access to the best of medical care and we have adequate insurance. This demon is eminently conquerable. I’ve told my next-generation family members that I’ll be around long enough to become a doddering old lady who drives them crazy.

I have help and support in abundance. My basket of love is filled to overflowing. For the most part I can keep working, bicycling and living life as usual throughout my treatment. My prognosis is excellent. I am focused on a vision of myself as active, healthy and happy now and in the future. Those around me, health professionals, family, friends, clients and colleagues share and support that vision without question.

What Happens When the Business Artist Has Cancer?

Today I’m reflecting on the realities of breast cancer for me as a solo business artist. This year I’ve dedicated energy and time to growing Keys to Change’s reach and visibility beyond where it was in 2015. Supported by business coach extraordinaire Charlie Gilkey, I’ve had success with these efforts. So one of the realities of this situation is that I’m frustrated to encounter this setback.

Charlie was in a serious a car accident several years ago. It impacted his ability to work for quite some time, so he immediately empathized and understood my frustration. He shared his immeasurable kindness, and offered  great and do-able ideas to help me create and execute a plan to keep the momentum going as I undergo treatment. Thank you, Charlie.

A Business Artist, Not a Superhero

Here’s the thing, though. I’m a business artist, not a superhero. I have not yet done much of this kind of advance preparation. In the 3 weeks that have passed since being diagnosed I’ve been pulled in multiple and disparate directions. I have more time to prepare than I first imagined. That’s  good, because while I knew what I ought to be doing, I had some time- and energy-consuming hurdles to get past first.

Having a disease is a job that takes time and energy. You have to make room in your days for rounds of medical appointments and tests.You need to give yourself space for coping with the forces pulling you toward fear and overwhelm. You have to project manage an unknown situation.

During these same three weeks, just to make life extra interesting, we were happily preparing for my older son’s wedding. That event took place last weekend. Crazy as it was to be handling two such profoundly different  experiences at once, it was also good. Very good.

So to sum up, I was pretty busy and emotionally overwhelmed. I realized I couldn’t lay the groundwork to maintain my business’s momentum. And I decided it didn’t make sense to try to force myself to do that just yet.

Telling Others

I needed to figure out the part about telling others. Who do I tell, how and when do I tell them? Then there’s the telling itself, which takes time and is really hard.

While it was clear to me that I needed to tell family and friends, I struggled for a while with whether to tell clients and colleagues. Did they really have to deal with this? Was it important to our work and our relationships?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the answer was yes. I needed to tell them. It mattered to my relationships with them and to our work together. Why? Because it’s what is really happening.

Doing the kind of work I do means developing mutually caring relationships with my clients. After all, we do not have “personal selves” and “work selves.” We have one self that we bring to the different roles we fill.

So I have been telling those of you who are clients, colleagues and collaborative partners, and will continue doing so. I haven’t been able to personally reach out to each of you yet. Some may be learning of this only through reading this post. I regret that. Please know you’ve been in my thoughts and that I hope we can be directly in contact soon.

While there is an emotional cost to this telling, I’m seeing that there is a huge gift in it as well. Each time I tell someone, I am giving the gift of trust. I am giving the gift of openness and honesty. I am openly communicating the unspoken bond of need and care that connects us all.

In offering this gift, I receive so much. I have a growing treasury of genuine love and care, and so many offers of help that I know I am safe, cared for, taken care of and not alone. While as an introvert I find alone time and privacy to be important, life is not a DIY venture.

What is “Personal”, What is “Professional?”

It’s all making me rethink the nature of “personal” and “professional” relationships. Yes, we need boundaries ethical guidelines and legal structures in our professional-client relationships. I endorse and follow those. But this is where the creativity and integrity of the business artist comes in; in the weaving together of professional responsibilities and the bonds of our shared humanity.

Whether you’re my relative, friend, client or colleague, we care for one another. We love one another and we learn from each other. When times are tough we need each other. So this, this is what it’s like for this business artist to have cancer.

First published September 2016. Revised December 2018.

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