A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view
HANNAH REVEALS WHY LIVING WITH A TERMINAL ILLNESS NEED NOT MEAN THE END FOR YOUR CAREER
July 4, 2019
Almost everyone grew up watching Disney films, and I admit to falling in love with Disney’s inimitable brand of storytelling at a very young age. But my life is less of a fairy tale and more of a work in progress. A girl from Wales who migrated to London, then Surrey and became a mum. A head of customer marketing for a major brand who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. In the absence of a fairy godmother, how would she juggle treatment, family and a career?
Fast forward to summer 2019 and, with half term underway and no magic carpet in sight, I jump into the passenger seat of our family car and watch leafy Surrey disappear in the rearview mirror. I’m heading home to Wales to spend a work-free, treatment-free break with my two children and my Mum. Once my daughter’s revision timetable is drafted, a trip to the cinema to see Aladdin is top of the list. (I’m pleased to report Disney girl power is alive and well in the shape of Princess Jasmine.)
A magic carpet ride had not been required for me to discover a new world of #workwithoutbias. All it took was a little “faith and trust” and a letter to the editor of Red magazine, something that led me to the #workstyle movement and Hoxby.
Before my diagnosis, I had enjoyed a successful career in brand, marketing coms and PR spanning 20 years. I was fortunate enough to work on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Thanks to my amazing friends and family, I just about balanced career and children.
In May 2016, my life changed forever. My career went on hold and I was forced to focus on my health. In my story, the villain of the piece is Mesothelioma of the Peritoneum – a rare and currently incurable form of cancer. Two fantastic hospitals, the Royal Marsden and the Hampshire Clinic, saved my life. Against all the odds, their challenge was to make me cancer-free with chemo and “the mother of all surgeries” (their words, not mine). Within 18 months I was ready to go back to my role as head of customer marketing. Then, days before my return, I was told that my team and I were to be put into consultation for redundancy.
I decided to give myself a year to enjoy a treatment-free family life while contemplating my next move. But mesothelioma had other plans, returning to make me face a further 10 months of treatment and, at one stage, leaving me in intensive care fighting for my life. My heroes – the Royal Marsden, family and friends – stepped up to help me fight.
At the end of all this, I was left with no career and multiple new challenges, including limited vision and neurological issues. (On the plus side, I had bypassed the menopause and had become a leading authority on hospital vegetarian food.) No longer able to drive nor easily get travel insurance, both jobs requiring overseas trips and my dream of another family holiday to Walt Disney World were out of the question. How would I find a new employer willing to take a risk on talent with clear, specific needs and an uncertain future?
Once upon a time I had longed to spend more time at home with my young family, travel and pursue my other interests. Before children, I had volunteered at a wildlife park at weekends. (My dream was to save the planet, one animal at a time.) Suddenly, I was at home more, but by default. My children were in school but I couldn’t volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary with a compromised immune system.
Despite the arrival of Periwinkle, a Birman cat who behaves like a lion-cum-dog, to keep me company, this new set of circumstances wasn’t enough for me. There had to be a better way to have a career, a family and a life. You can find numerous articles about women returning to work after children, but rarely any with help or guidance for those wishing to return with a terminal illness. I found myself looking through magazines with a slightly different lens – notably the articles in the Red’s May edition on bouncing back, returning to work and happiness. This resulted in my letter to the editor and further research on my behalf.
I believe that my circumstances should not define or limit me – and that is where Hoxby came in. Where Hoxby comes in. A community of like-minded, talented individuals who believe in community, not corporate; who value success not presenteeism; who believe that to love what you do means producing your best work. As Merida so eloquently puts it in Brave: “You control your destiny — you don’t need magic to do it.”
It took something epic for me to be brave enough to embrace the world of freelancing but now I wish I had done it sooner. Being labelled when in work as a working mum, and then, more recently, as terminally ill had troubled me. I want to be judged on my work and not my circumstances.
When I applied to Hoxby, I answered arguably the toughest but, in some ways, easiest interview question of my career: Why do you want to work at Hoxby and what does #workstyle mean to you?
One honest, soul-searching response later, one that allowed me to embrace my new world with no apology necessary – #cause_working-parents, #cause_illness, #cause_phys-disabled – and here I am.
Our thanks to Hannah for being brave to share her story so beautifully. If you would like to know more about Mesothelioma and Action Mesothelioma Day tomorrow Friday 5th July click here.
If Hannah’s story has inspired you to help create a world of #workwithoutbias our applications are now open. Join us
A talented and determined senior-level marketing professional with over 20 years brand and marketing communications experience in financial services, loyalty, travel, sponsorship and B2B, Hannah took the decision to become freelance earlier this year having previously led and worked with international teams and agencies across all marketing disciplines including brand strategy, advertising, sponsorship, event management, internal communications and PR.
A mum of two children (aged 7 and 13) passionate about brand, her dream is still to save the planet one animal at a time.
Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer caused by asbestos dust. Action Mesothelioma Day is Friday, 5 July.