CEO Corner

​When a Parent (or Family Member) Has a Sudden Illness

My father was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  If you’re going to get cancer, don’t pick this one.  We’re aggressively fighting it, and we are committed to remaining optimistic.  I’m very close with both of my parents, and immensely grateful to them for all of their love and support throughout my life.  This has been a jarring and emotional experience for me like none other.  In the past month, mentors and friends have offered some very helpful advice, so I pass it along here to you in case it can help you in some way, either now or in the future.


1. Resolve to Be Excellent at Supporting Your Parent Now

The train of life doesn’t stop for anything; all of the responsibilities of work, family, and community continue apace – even in the face of your parent’s sudden illness.  I’ve resolved that I might fail for a while in other areas of my life, but I’m committed to being excellent at supporting my father through his treatment plan.


2.    Talk About the Weather

What your parent wants more than anything during a time they’re facing illness is normalcy.  Resist the urge to always address their illness or their health in general.  Focus the conversation on the grandkids, pets, etc.  This will put them at ease, and provide them with a break from the medical appointments and healthcare decisions.


3.    At Work, Mediocrity is the Target

BNI mentors advised me to make my father’s illness my #1, #2, and #3 priority.  I’m forever grateful to them.  This freed me to create some necessary mental space to manage this new project.  In a significant silver lining, it actually forced me to empower managers on the team to run the day-to-day operations so I could focus on BNI’s strategic development.  I’m now much more focused on the strategic initiatives that matter most to BNI Members, and I’m spending less time “in the weeds.”


4.    Cardio Workouts Burn Stress & Calories

The day of the diagnosis, I set several personal workout records.  The next day out of the hospital, I did a solo 9-hour hike up and down an icy mountain.  I realized that my father’s illness had created a massive amount of stress inside of me, and at the time of this realization I committed to using that energy positively and productively. 


5.    This is What Savings Are For

Even with insurance coverage, ancillary costs (ex. travel) can pile up quickly.  While I’m usually embarrassingly frugal, I’ve thrown that frugality out of the window for the moment.  If taking an Uber instead of driving to the airport means I can catch up on a few minutes of work emails, I do it.  If buying takeout saves an hour of dinner preparation, I do it.  Going out of my way to spend just a bit extra to buy some much-needed time and mental space has been helpful.


6.    Be Lenient With Your Schedule, When Possible

Sudden illness and convenience simply don’t go together. From the outset, it’s important to understand that nothing about serious illness or its treatment is convenient; it doesn’t neatly fit into the Outlook calendar.  Medical appointments get rescheduled, run late, etc.  So, revamp your normal scheduling system to reduce “mental clutter.”  Only schedule what you have to schedule, and have other meetings on an ad hoc basis as you have time slots open up. 


7.    Get Real About Getting Virtual

I’ve learned that hospitals have excellent Wi-Fi, and that a hospital waiting room or cafeteria can be an excellent virtual office. And free messaging apps (ex. WhatsApp) can keep you in the flow of your business no matter where you are.  Thank goodness for technology; this is a great time to fully-embrace it. 


8.    Hobbies Help . . . A Lot

While the lack of control that I feel regarding the cancer can be frustrating, I’m working to offset that feeling with new hobbies like training our new German Shepherd puppy.  In general, I’ve found that hobbies that entail manual labor (cleaning out the attic, landscaping projects, etc.) tend to be best as they burn off negative energy in a way that leads to a visibly positive result.


9.    Accept Any & All Help

While we may pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, now is the time to accept help from anyone and everyone.  I’ve found that it is important to those around me to be able to help right now.  And bits of help at the right time (walking the dog when I’m away, cleaning up after dinner so I can get some extra sleep, etc.) have made a really big difference.


10.  Share Your Feelings with Your Spouse, Kids, and Colleagues

Resist the urge to be stoic; resist the urge to bottle up your feelings.  Sharing them (like I’m doing in this article) is actually cathartic.  Research has proven that we are all wired for positive interaction with other people.  Without meaningful emotional interaction with those around us, we can spiral into despair.  With such interaction, we’re replenished and can keep moving forward and best support our loved ones.


When a sudden and serious illness strikes a parent, life for adult children can go way out of balance.  I’m hopeful that this collection of tips will be helpful to you in some way. 

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know my father is strong.  And I know that the BNI Family is here for me and for him, and for everyone going through something like this.  For that, I’m forever grateful to you and this terrific organization.

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