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Tough love: how I’d build a better world


July 22, 2020

Right now, as we struggle to get back to normality, we could all use a bit of fairy-tale magic and Disney optimism. Both my children (Holly, 14, and Luke, 8) were born into a world of Disney and we were fortunate to have family trips to Walt Disney World. Being a marketing strategist and control freak, I planned each day of our Disney World experience. Precisely. On reflection, my husband probably felt that my colour-coded Disney spreadsheet and the early starts were less than magical.

Getting away from it all

Unsurprisingly, Disney Plus was one of our first family lockdown treats. Once again, we were transported to ‘a galaxy far far away’ by Star Wars: the Mandalorian and revisited many Disney classics.

Everyone needs the occasional break from reality; Disney has been ideal for us over the last four years and for many families during lockdown. They have yet to use any of the big ‘C’ words (cancer, chemo and, more recently, coronavirus), giving us the chance to escape to a world without trauma.

A new breed of brave

As a mum, one of the many things I love about Disney is that they have started to deliver their own brand of feminism and a new version of ‘happily ever after’. With the likes of Elsa (Frozen), Merida (Brave), Jasmine (Aladdin 2019) and soon-to-come-out Mulan, you can be a ball-gown-wearing princess and still kick ass when required. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive and you no longer need a prince by your side to rule a kingdom. A snowman will do. These self-sacrificing Disney heroines are connected by their resilience in adversity and their knowledge that it is OK to ask for help. This is something I know a little about!

How it hit me

Once, I was a wannabe super-mum with a successful career in brand marketing and two gorgeous children. Sure, I often thought I had it all, yet sometimes struggled to keep all the proverbial balls in the air. Then, in 2016, I was diagnosed with mesothelioma of the peritoneum, a terminal and incurable cancer.

Fast-forward a few years and numerous cycles of chemo, immunotherapy, a life-saving operation and two long stays in intensive care. I am still here but with physical and mental challenges that I thought would end my career.

Finding Hoxby: a life-enhancer

As Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) would say, we always have a choice: ‘The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem’. It helps to stop thinking about what you miss and make the most of what you have.

Shortly after I made that decision, I found Hoxby, a community of talented, like-minded freelance individuals, whose mission is ‘to create a happier, more fulfilled society through a world of work without bias’. Hoxby believes that everyone should be free to choose when and where they work. Simply, work should fit around life, and every life is different.

I have been a ‘Hoxby’ for just over a year. As well as providing professional support, there is a clear sense of community and purpose. Hoxbies support each other through shared knowledge, causes and experiences. In my case, these range from brand development and marketing, to parenting, disability and illness.

More recently, Hoxbies have helped each other manage the additional challenges of lockdown and Covid-19. Not-for-profit Hoxby Foundation continues to promote remote and flexible working among businesses and has established a new community,, to connect new and seasoned remote workers in health and wellbeing.

Lose some, gain considerably more

As Belle (Beauty and the Beast) says: ‘It’s not until you lose everything that you truly appreciate everything’. Many will have experienced this during lockdown. I was ahead of the trend and perhaps more resilient as I am used to life being turned upside-down by scan results and treatment.

In some ways, lockdown has given me a little of my life back, and helped me realise that almost everyone is missing things and loved-ones they took for granted. Overnight, my busy schedule of hospital appointments disappeared and I was able to focus on my children. On top of homeschooling, it also gave me time and energy to devote to Hoxby and get back to work.

Staying well with Hoxby

Many Hoxbies continue to adapt their workstyle to fit in around illness, carer duties and, lately, home schooling. Physical and emotional wellbeing is key to Hoxby and has become increasingly valuable during the last few months. The support has been amazing, through two ‘Wellbeing Weeks’ and everyone checking in on each other to offer a kind word or share advice.

Making a difference close to home

I also feel lucky to belong to a fantastic community in my village. We’ve got to know each other a little better by coming together and volunteering. As Pocahontas said: ‘If you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you will learn things that you never knew’.

That is true of my experience in helping Oxshott Deliveries set up and provide free grocery delivery from local retailers to people shielding in the area and donating food boxes to those in need. I was privileged to manage the customer correspondence from home and, as well as arranging deliveries and volunteers, we were able to keep in contact with those isolating alone by email.

It’s time to be kind

I’ve always tried to be thoughtful and considerate. Right now, though, we all need to step up a gear. Certainly, my experiences of ill health have helped me understand the benefits when you are on the receiving end.

I am starting to become one of those mums who wants to pause the TV every time a WaterAid ad comes on to remind my children how fortunate they are. They sometimes wonder why I’ll suddenly stop to help an elderly gentleman balance his walking frame and grab a supermarket trolley, or stand up part-way through our café lunch to buy a complete stranger a cup of tea because they seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Perhaps they just think I am nosey, which is probably also true! But if it were my Nana, Grandad or a friend, I would want someone to take the time to help.

Focus on what matters

It’s times like these that make you realise the importance of a kind gesture and the value of community. You can’t get resilience and selflessness from a book. They are learned behaviours; all we can do is teach by example and perhaps provide a few prompts along the way. You are stronger than you think and, in these times, probably more resourceful, too, but having the support of a like-minded community can make all the difference.

I know that I will beat my disease and we will eventually get a vaccine for coronavirus. But as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother said: ‘Even miracles take a little time’.

Join Hoxby today

Discover the power of community – professional and personal – with Hoxby. We’re a dynamic, growing freelance network with opportunities to work on rewarding projects and well-known clients.

Hoxbies come from all kinds of disciplines, from marketing to finance, and use their skills and experience to help each other.

But the support you receive goes much further. The community runs a busy programme of projects such as a world365loop fitness challenge, quarterly wellbeing sessions (an average of ten free sessions including yoga, meditation, art, cooking and languages), virtual coffee meet-ups and more.

We’d love you to join us.

More on mesothelioma. It’s a deadly cancer caused by breathing in asbestos dust. The British Lung Foundation has spent more than £9.3 million to-date on research and organises an Action Mesothelioma Day every year.

Hannah Fletcher is a marketing strategist and part of the Hoxby community

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