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Cancer had robbed me of so much – and now it was going to take away my business

This is how my life and business changed forever.

On Friday, May 13, 2016, I found out I had cancer. I went to the hospital after noticing that my lymph nodes were tremendously swollen and there were veins protruding from my chest.

I thought I had mononucleosis. I was immediately admitted and underwent a series of rigorous tests and procedures to receive my final diagnosis – Hodgkin's lymphoma. Just five days later, I started my first round of chemotherapy.

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I couldn't believe it. I was 34 years old, fit, a non-smoker, and I hardly drank. I've been through a lot in my life but nothing had ever prepared me for this.

Nearly three years before, my husband and I founded a food event company in Toronto. We worked tirelessly to make the business a success, sometimes working 70 hours a week or more and making very little profit to get things moving in the right direction.

Initially, the doctors told me it was very unlikely that I would be able to continue managing my company as I underwent treatment. I was utterly devastated. Cancer had already robbed me of so much – an undetermined future, my fertility, my physical appearance and now it was going to take away my business.

PERSONAL ESSAY: After cancer treatment, I had to walk away from my life as I knew it

Like people, businesses are living, breathing entities. Just because my life was being put on hold indefinitely didn't mean that my business would have to share the same fate. After all, our customers, partners and staff depended on us. If we didn't forge ahead, we could risk losing everything we'd worked so hard to achieve.

To make that happen, I had to give up a lot of control and prioritize things more effectively. In between chemotherapy sessions, doctors' appointments and dealing with the harsh side effects, I relied upon my husband and staff to host our events, co-ordinate with our food partners, answer phone calls, manage e-mails, etc. It made me recognize that I was hanging on too tightly, which was slowing our company's progress. We also learned to say no to projects that were unlikely to give us the desirable outcomes we wanted. We ended up having our highest gross sales the following months.

I started seeing my business through the lens of my own health crisis. What would I want from my business if it abruptly ended today? Would I be satisfied with the things that we achieved or not? These questions gave me greater insight into the direction I wanted to take my company. We're now planning several new projects and have formulated better strategies for the near future.

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PERSONAL ESSAY: My wife's quiet strength living with cancer

Most important, battling cancer gave me a deeper appreciation of being an entrepreneur. If I wasn't working for myself and doing what I loved, I would have quit my job in a heartbeat. While it's been extremely tough at times, especially when there are so many unknowns surrounding my health, and I struggle with the physical and emotional baggage of my disease, I remind myself that each day is an opportunity to do something great.

I used to think there would be a better time to accomplish certain goals. Now I think there's never going to be a better time.

Suzanne Urpecz is the co-founder of Savour Toronto, a company that gives food tours of Kensington Market and other neighbourhoods.

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