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What Breast Cancer Taught Me about Business

Thursday, March 12, 2020
Diane Simard [NCSD guest blog post by Diane M. Simard]

Recently, I put a checkmark next to a bullet point I wish I didn’t have on my bucket list.

I became a five-year breast cancer survivor. Ever since the day I was diagnosed, I have been determined to live like never before, which includes my business life. For example, when I invested in and started working with George Bye at Bye Aerospace over 11 years ago, we talked at length about the possibilities of electric aviation becoming a “thing.” Our two-seat all-electric airplane called eFlyer 2 is intended to be the world’s first FAA-certified electric airplane. Just three years ago, many in the general aviation industry were still making jokes about electric aviation, but last year, Bye Aerospace was covered by Forbes.

Persistence? Luck? Vision? Yes, perhaps, and yes. I would also throw in grit, gratitude, and patience – the same values and driving forces that helped me endure 10 grueling months of treatment for late stage III breast cancer in 2015. Although treatment was brutal, I was fortunate, because my cancer was still considered treatable. A fellow survivor advocate recently told me that most survivors choose to either validate their cancer experiences or run from them.

Fast-forward to today. I am the award-winning author of The Unlikely Gift of Breast Cancer, a memoir-style book that explores how I channeled my fury over the lack of individualized mental health counseling resources for patients, survivors, and caregivers by founding the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE) at the University of Denver. COPE is the first specialty in the country to offer psychosocial oncology training at the graduate level.

COPE was a life raft to help me find my post-cancer purpose. As a result, I found a more confident voice, established clearer priorities, and made an enduring commitment to help others define, then develop, plans to achieve their life and career goals.

In addition to mentoring through private engagements, I often get asked to speak and blog about the principles that guide me. Here are my business takeaways from cancer – the values I instill in my daily work life.

Expect and embrace change.
Cancer wasn’t part of my life plan, and I hated that it interrupted my life. But it forced me to increase my level of resilience and ultimately helped me stop being angry about not being in control.

Intention.
Every day, I have a plan for what needs to be accomplished. On days when I can’t get to my list because of endless interruptions, I start at 2 p.m. telling those who try to barge in on my work time that I would love to catch up, but I have a hard deadline looming (which is my to-do list). Accomplishing what I set out to do is a significant motivational driver.

Diane Simard ringing bellCelebrate – don’t resent – others’ successes.
Cancer taught me how to be joyful. I finally learned I could only be happy for someone else after I figured out how to be happy with myself.

Fact-based data.
My degree is in journalism, so I developed a need for true, factual, statistically-backed data on which to base decisions. Clear, open, honest, fact-based data is imperative for me to communicate properly, and I get irritated easily by those who attempt to divert off topic because they don’t want to answer my question. Halfway through chemo, my medical oncologist made this observation: “Diane, your mind never stops!”

Purpose.
Am I doing my job more efficiently and productively than my predecessor? If jobs could have obituaries, how will my job obituary read after I leave it?

Goals.
I view life as a great voyage, and my goals are beacons that provide guidance, encouragement, and the propellant to help me keep moving forward.

Accountability.
Which leads to my final thought. Some say I am way too hard on myself, but unless I keep pushing, I start to give up. Again I reference cancer, where giving up was simply not an option.

May we all continue to celebrate the bonds of survivorship!

Diane M. Simard is a stage III breast cancer survivor, author of The Unlikely Gift of Breast Cancer, speaker, angel investor, business mentor, and aerospace executive. After her diagnosis, Diane founded the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE) - the first specialty program in the country to train graduate-level clinical psychology students how to work with cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. Diane was recognized as one of the 100 inaugural “National Women in Business to Watch” by BizWomen.com. Follow her at Facebook at @DianeMSimard1965 and visit her website DianeMSimard.com.