How Breast Cancer Changed My Business For the Better

Photo of Laura Jawad, in front of Lake Washington and wearing workout clothing, taken just prior to starting breast cancer treatment.

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Breast cancer changed my business for the better

Maybe this is isn’t a thing you expect to hear.

But if there’s been one thing that I’ve learned through the seasons of pregnancies, postpartum recovery, breast cancer treatment and breast reconstruction, it’s this:

There’s opportunity in every setback.

My breast cancer diagnosis rocked my world. And I don’t want to imply otherwise.

But it also forced me to start treating my business like a business.

I had to learn to control it, to create better boundaries on my time and to become more efficient, so it wouldn’t control me.

Believe it or not, my biz isn’t my priority.

That honor is shared by my health and my family.

But prior to my diagnosis, I wasn’t operating that way.

Shifting Priorities and Building Systems

In August 2021 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

And swirling within the maelstrom of medical appointments, quick decisions and changes in plans, I was faced with a decision about my business: I could temporarily shut down OR I could keep working.

While there were definitely pros and cons of each option, ultimately I decided to keep my doors open.

For me, the decision to keep my business running was a tether to normalcy. It was an anchor in turbulent times. It was a piece of me that wasn’t defined by cancer.

But, it couldn’t be business as usual.

Something had to give. 

And so, I doubled down on systematizing what I could. I automated those things. I re-visited my priorities and created better boundaries.

Looking back, there are six major adjustments I made to my business during that time.

1) I Prioritized My Health

At the time of my diagnosis, I was working as a pregnancy and postpartum personal trainer and birth doula. 

Birth doula work requires being on call for clients 24/7, attending births that can last for days and providing physical support to birthing parents.

The demands of being a doula were clearly too physically strenuous for my situation. 

This one was a no-brainer for me. I helped my existing clients find an alternative doula and I stopped accepting new clients.

I also blocked my public-facing calendars around my treatment schedule. I made sure I had no client calls in the week after my chemotherapy treatments. I gave myself all the time I needed to rest, recover and to focus on my health.

2) I practiced Open Communication

Transparency with my personal training clients was key. 

I set up Zoom calls with each and every client and candidly explained my situation and the challenges I expected over the next months. 

Many decided to stay on, navigating the journey with me. 

As a beautiful side note, this experience taught me the value of cultivating genuine connections in business.

3) i Reduced my Client Load

My pre-cancer client load was 10-15 clients. During my treatment, I reduced my roster to 6-8 clients. 

I was fortunate to be in a position that we didn’t need my income and so I was able to titrate my workload to my physical and emotional capacity.

4) i Implemented Client Management SOftware

During treatment, time became more precious and my focus was more scattered. I implemented a client relationship management tool (CRM) to address both. 

My CRM is Dubsado. With Dubsado, I streamlined management of existing clients, automated the onboarding of new clients and created auto-responders for new client inquiries to set expectations around response times. 

It helped me stay organized and keep track of client documents during a time when I was often impacted by brain fog (–> chemo brain).

By implementing a CRM and doubling down on automations, I was able to stay on top of my business in a way that I absolutely would not have with all the competing priorities I was juggling. I’ll never go back!

5) I got better at setting boundaries

I learned to really love email auto-responders. 

I love them so much that they get their own bullet point.

Automated email responses helped me ensure clear communication and set expectations and boundaries when I couldn’t be immediately present.

Autoresponders and other automations removed a lot of the pressure of needing to be “on” for repeatable tasks that I really could outsource to software.

6) I doubled down on SEO

My energy levels made regular social media appearances impossible. I wasn’t too sad about that!

I channeled my efforts into strengthening my website’s SEO and building my email list. 

A lot of blog posts were written while I was in the infusion chair and recovering from surgery. To me, writing is fun and so it was a really nice way to pass some of that time when my brain felt good but my body couldn’t keep up. 

Most importantly, writing was the thing I felt like I could do and wanted to do. I leaned in.

During this time, my organic website traffic grew a ton and I received more inquiries than I could fulfill!

Re-defining Success

As a pregnancy and postpartum personal trainer, I coach my clients to reset their benchmarks of success during their childbearing year.

I think the same advice applies to business during any sort of health challenge. When we’re not operating at full capacity, expectations need to change and bars need to be lowered.

During treatment, success took on a new meaning for me. Instead of high income goals or embarking on lofty projects, my aim was to ensure my business could sustain itself. And that its foundation remained solid so I could continue to grow once I was out of treatment.

As of August 2022, I’ve officially completed treatment. But that doesn’t mean cancer is behind me, it’s left too big of an imprint on my personal and professional life.

And while I wouldn’t choose to do it again, the journey has reshaped my business into one that’s more aligned with my strengths and my family’s needs.

Opportunity In Setback

The opportunity in this particular setback? In the process of setting up SEO and systems for my personal training business, I found out I was really good at it. And I really enjoy it.

Using these skills, I’ve built a new business I’d never have considered if I hadn’t gone through the challenge of running a business during cancer treatment.

Cancer sucks. Yet, it helped me refine one business and build another.

Here's How I Can Support You

At the time of writing this, it’s November 2023 and I’m recovering from yet another surgery. 

And as I look back at the past few years, there are so many lessons I will hold on to moving forward: 

The value of cultivating genuine relationships with my clients. Prioritizing my health over my business. Communicating clearly. Building systems. Creating boundaries.

Those are things that are here to stay.

And I hope there are a few golden nuggets here for you as well.

Because I hope we don’t all need a major life event to take back a little control around our business.

If you’re interested in streamlining your online fitness business or if you’re ready to explore the realm of SEO, I’m here for you. Reach out to request a Chemistry Call and we can discuss your specific needs.
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Laura Jawad, Ph.D. is a personal trainer and birth doula-turned-SEO strategist for female health and wellness providers.

She offers SEO site reviews, SEO coaching and on-page optimization for wordpress users.

Please reach out with questions, schedule a Chemistry call or explore her services page!

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