Keeping my business running during treatment
Lawrence, 62, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2005, and relapsed in 2007 and 2011. He’s been treated with chemotherapy and had two stem cell transplants.
I was extremely fit – running marathons, playing rugby, cycling quite a lot – when I became ill. I’d developed a persistent cough, I was getting night sweats, my appetite had disappeared and I suddenly started losing weight, which was unusual for me. I went back and forth to the GP for nearly a year before I was referred for a chest X-ray.
At the hospital, the radiographer was telling everybody else that their results would be with their GP in a week, but they said to me it would that afternoon. I thought, “That’s a bit odd.” The next day, the Friday, I picked my little girl up from school and my GP phoned me to tell me I had to go to the haematology department on Monday. I didn’t even know what 'haematology' was.
Over the next few weeks, biopsies were taken and it was all a bit of a whirlwind. Then I was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma.
It was on my chest, which is why I was getting the symptoms – there were no lumps around my neck, arms and groin.
Keeping the wheels on
I started my own business when I was 21 – refurbishing coffee vending machines and loaning them out. It can be quite physical. I do some of the refurbishment, but I also do a lot of the accounts side of things.
After my diagnosis, I started fortnightly chemotherapy straight away, followed by radiotherapy – it was belt and braces. Over the next few years I had more chemo and two stem cell transplants – one using my own bone marrow and the other a donor’s. On top of the side effects, three of my heart arteries were damaged by the first course of chemo. I had to have a stent fitted to give me a fighting chance of getting through the second bone marrow transplant.
During this time, even though I was unwell, I tried to keep up with the business. It was very difficult, but I didn’t want to lose my company.
At times I couldn’t actually touch the money because of germs and infection. But basically, when I could, I was keeping it going from the hospital bed.
Getting the family involved
When the treatment side effects got worse and I was really ill, it was harder to run the business. Thankfully, my son stepped in to maintain the machines, and my brother supported where he could. At one point, we scaled down the business and got rid of some contracts.
But when I was recovering from bouts of chemo, I found I could be a little bit more involved. I was housebound for months at a time, but I still was able to talk to people over the phone.
I even remember lying in a hospital bed and people ringing me up, because my phone is my business number as well. They’d complain about something and I’d say, “I’m in hospital. I’m having chemo.” Some would say, “That’s not my problem.” I got a mixed reaction from people.
Building my confidence back up
Work gave me something else to focus on and my approach was to focus week to week. I wasn’t really looking too far ahead. I lost my confidence about lots of things – there were quite a few times when I didn’t want to run the business. It took about a year or two to really get my full confidence back.
I now feel I’ve recovered mentally – the best thing I did was to get out and get fresh air when I could and be active.
My advice to others is stay as active as you possibly can. Even when I was recovering from my stem cell transplant, I was doing very light exercises if I could.
I am still running my business. I’m actually very busy now – I’ve got five coffee machines coming tomorrow.
Looking back, I was desperate not to lose my life, but I was also desperate not to lose my business. I needed something to fight and come back for – not just family but my identity. I wasn’t ready to sit at home doing nothing if I recovered. I’ve got a company to run.
Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.
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