By April 28, 2014 Read More →

How to cope with illness when you’re self-employed

How to cope with illness - Sarah CruickshankIt’s one of the things you try not to think about when you run your own business.

But Sarah Cruickshank had no choice when she was diagnosed with cancer.

She has kindly agreed to share this guest post on how she was able to cope with illness and lengthy treatment.

Being told you have a serious, possibly life-limiting illness is devastating. All sorts of things go through your mind, and you tend to end up being strong for your family and friends as they come to terms with the news.

If you run your own business too, it just adds another layer of complication to your life. In the summer of 2012 I was told that the lump in my breast that I had assumed was just a cyst was actually grade 3 cancer. I was facing an operation and then months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin.

The last thing on my mind was what effect it was going to have on my business. My husband and son were obviously frantic, and my parents who live 250 miles away from me were equally devastated.

Once I’d reassured them, I got down to thinking about how to keep my business going through it all. Everyone’s experience is different, but this is how I did it.

How I managed to cope with illness and not lose my business

I told my clients…
I contacted all my regular clients and explained that I would be out of action for a few weeks while I had and recovered from surgery.

I also had to tell them that I was facing at least 12 months of treatments after that, but that I couldn’t be more specific until after my operation and that I didn’t really know what state I would be in during that time.

I asked for help…
I work on my own and pride myself on the fact that I don’t outsource any of my client work, but I knew that wasn’t going to work for me now.

I contacted some other Virtual Assistants I know who offer the services I knew my clients would be looking for, and asked if I could refer my clients on when I just wasn’t able to cope. Thankfully they said yes.

Obviously I was taking a risk. I didn’t make associate agreements with the other VAs, I just asked if I could pass their contact details to my clients on an ad hoc basis. I had no idea if my clients would come back to me once I was well again.

I kept people informed…

Having successfully come through a lumpectomy, the pathology of the tumours showed that the cancer had all been removed and it hadn’t spread to my lymph glands or anywhere else.

To give me the best chance of the cancer not returning I was going to need chemo, radiotherapy and a course of Herceptin. I was looking at being back and forth to hospital from October 2012 until May 2013!

Sometimes I was fine, firing on all cylinders and able to work to my usual standard. But sometimes my brain would just scream “Don’t go there”, as I read a client email, and it was then that I referred on to other VAs.

And when I did come back…
My clients came back to me! It took about a year to completely re-establish myself and I did try to get back to work before I was fully ready. In the end you just have to listen to your body and do what’s right for you.

I don’t think I’d change anything about the way I managed to cope with illness and communicate with my clients. I think my honesty paid off and almost two years down the line from the start of my illness journey I’m moving forwards with confidence.

work from home secrets

Sarah Cruickshank is a freelance writer, proofreader and audio transcriptionist based in Lancaster in N.W. England. She blogs about family life, learning, freelancing and wellbeing at

Did you catch Sarah’s previous popular guest post about juggling work and family as your children grow from babies to teenagers?

Posted in: Health

6 Comments on "How to cope with illness when you’re self-employed"

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  1. You are very courageous! You were so strong for everyone else, in every aspect of your life. Wow. I think it speaks volumes about who you are, and what kind of business you built up, that your customers returned. Obviously, you had a strong relationship with them and had provided them with great service, and they appreciated that you took care of them, with the referral while you were recovering. You proved to them that you would not let them down, no matter what! You did a great job, and thank you for sharing with all of us. I wish you continued good health!

    • Sarah Cruickshank says:

      Thank you Linda! I didn’t feel very courageous at the time, but I’m glad to say I pulled through 🙂

    • Jo says:

      Courageous for sure. When so many people depend on you and then you find yourself in this situation – the only thing is to be open with people. It is only then that they can understand and 9/10 times they will stick by you and support you. I wish you well on your journey and thanks too for sharing with us.

  2. Amir Sibboni says:

    This is was an inspiring read. I’m a real estate agent myself and my income and life depend on my being healthy and closing home sales. If I’m sick, that means no income coming in. That does mean creating and maintaining strong relationships and rapport with clients so they don’t abandon you if you become even a little sick!

    Thank you.

  3. Sarah Cruickshank says:

    Thank you Amir