|By JOSH PATRICK|
In the spring of 2008, I had symptoms of what I thought was a heart condition. It made sense because I had a family history of heart disease. After several sleepless nights, I went to the doctor.
When he couldn’t find anything, I went home. But the symptoms kept occurring. I went back to the doctor, and once again he found nothing. Around the fourth or fifth visit, I got the feeling he thought I was being a hypochondriac.
Finally, the symptoms became so bad that I went to the emergency room, and once again they found nothing wrong with my heart. They did, however, find a slight shadow on my lung. I was given the options of having it monitored or getting a CT scan. I went for the scan, which was out of character for me. I just didn’t like spending money on medical bills that weren’t necessary. Like many small-business owners, I have a high-deductible insurance plan, and I wasn’t looking forward to writing a
And then the phone call came.
My doctor called and said, “Good news: Nothing wrong with your lung. Bad news, you need to get a biopsy.” And so began my introduction to the world of cancer.
Suddenly, disaster planning was no longer an abstract thought. My wealth-management and consulting business is very small. Everything that creates revenue comes from the work I do with or for my clients. Without my involvement, there is no business. This is true of most small businesses in
Here was my first dilemma: Do I keep my diagnosis to myself, or do I share it with others? If I share it with others, there’s a good chance clients will leave. But I’ve always believed in transparency, and I decided to tell the world. We all have bad things happen to us, and when we share these issues with others, we get an opportunity to receive support.
In my case, none of my clients left — and one even prepaid my success fee for helping sell a business. The prepayment was extraordinarily unusual, and it allowed me to go through my treatments without being overly concerned about cash flow.
Entering the world of cancer is a surreal experience. One day you’re walking around normally, and the next you’re getting ready to surrender your future to the health care system. Not only did I have to get ready for the treatment, I had to find a way to keep my business viable. Even with the prepayment, I knew my business would take a hit. I had no choice but to downsize. My staff knew this, too, and one of my employees volunteered to find another job. My other staff member understood that there would be no salary increases for a year or two.
The treatment I was going to start involved a stem-cell transplant. Under the best of circumstances this is a dangerous procedure. The goal is to give you more chemotherapy than one person should ever get, and the transplant is supposed to help your white blood cells return before you get an infection that kills you. It was a high-risk procedure, one I needed to undertake if I wanted to survive.
In preparation, I wrote a letter to my wife, Suzanne. I told her where the life insurance policies were, where she should send clients and how to wind down the business. It was more or less a checklist of all the things she would have to do if I didn’t survive. I made sure she had access to all of our financial accounts, and I wrote it all down. I didn’t want financial issues left to memory.
For years, I have suggested that small-business owners prepare such a letter and leave it where it will be easily found by a significant other. This letter should cover all of the things that need to be done to close or sell the business. It should cover the financial issues that a family is likely to face if the owner is not able to provide guidance. I also often suggest that people, especially business owners, think about how they will respond if they get that phone call that changes their world. I’m 62, and I now know how important this advice can be.
My treatments lasted for nine months. The first five were extreme, and the last four were a clinical trial that was mild in comparison. The side effects are still with me, in terms of my health and the business. I foolishly thought that, once I finished the treatments, I would bounce back and the business would take off where I left it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First, my priorities changed from growing my business to staying healthy. Second, it was a couple of years before I had the energy to work hard.
I believe I lost about five years of business momentum during the two years I was in treatment and recovery. And it continues today.
My type of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Mantle cell type, requires monitoring. Once a year, I go through tests to make sure that the cancer hasn’t come back. While I’m in this process, every little ache and pain makes me think my cancer has returned, and I’m scared to death, which my doctor tells me is normal. When I take these tests, a battery of which I just completed, I don’t concentrate on business very well.
And this, once again, is where transparency comes into play. Being transparent helps those I work with understand what’s going on with me. Clients and employees often give me a little leeway when I don’t follow through as quickly as I normally do.
Everyone told me that going through this experience would help me look at life differently. It’s taken me several years to see the positives I can take from this, but I have learned to ask for help and to accept it when offered. I think it’s helped me become a better adviser.
Have you gotten the phone call or thought about what you would do if it came?
|Copyright:||Copyright 2014 The New York Times Company|
|Source:||New York Times Digital|