I spent my fiftieth birthday happily enough in New York, taking in all the Big Apple has to offer, and returned with a new ‘joie de vivre’ to be knocked sideways three months later with a diagnosis of breast cancer. No symptoms. No family history. Just that I was lucky enough to be called for my first routine mammogram at fifty and three months rather than anytime up to 53. It’s just the ‘luck’ of when the mobile diagnostic unit (or caravan) is in your area. If it had turned right instead of left that month, who knows if I’d be here now.
But I put on my determined face and got through two operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, still running my marketing & PR consultancy business at arm’s length from a laptop, with a great team in the office keeping the wheels turning.
When I started the business back in 1987, I had always hoped I might one day have built something of value that I could sell. It was on my life plan as a job to do in may later fifties. But, returning home after another bought of radiotherapy, I called a corporate broker and put my business up for sale. It was March 2008 and I was still just 50 years old.
By the following January the sale went through to a PR consultancy based in London’s prestigious Fitzrovia and, for a year, I did regular days in the London office, still overseeing my old team and keeping in contact with our clients. The second year of my two-year earn out I kept away from the office and was a remote resource, if needed. All the management functions and client contact was passed to the new agency. So, although I was technically employed, I wasn’t busy like I was used to.
I also associated where we lived with the business before and with being ill – so we decided to make a big move and, having eventually secured a purchaser in a difficult housing market, moved house 150 miles to Cheltenham in 2010.
A passion for marketing was still in my blood, but there was no point trying to reinvent myself in the south-east if I was moving to the south-west. So I took a professional mentoring and coaching course to give me another qualification. I had been mentoring people in my own way for years but I found it really useful to do the qualification and find new options for questioning and how to deal with a variety of different personality types.
Having moved I’ve tried to re-invent my career under the guise of The Marketing Mentor. It’s not easy in a new town, especially during an economic downturn, but I have used social media to become known and opportunities are starting to develop. I’ve realised that I still want the buzz of working with corporates and larger businesses. I have spent a long time trying to develop business locally but unfortunately small local businesses want help but can’t, or won’t, pay for it. So, as much as I like meeting for coffee, there has to come a time when you say ‘enough is enough’.
I have also started an online business trading in miniature lead figures from the first half of the 20th century (see Lilliput World story) The interesting thing is that the business is truly worldwide with customers from the USA, Europe and Japan.
All was looking on the up but then we had the blow that afflicts most of us in middle age – parental issues. My husband still had his mother alive at 84 and my father was 97. Both living independently, with varying amounts of support, but life was manageable.
Tragically my mother-in-law contracted mouth cancer, a horrifically debilitating illness affecting breathing, speaking and eating. She went into a nursing home and sadly died just before Christmas 2010. Her quality of life was zero towards the end and it was harrowing both physically (with a five hour round trip) and mentally for my husband to see his mother deteriorate so rapidly. We both said that you wouldn’t let an animal, our dog for example, suffer so much.
Then in July 2011, now 98, my father fell and broke his hip. An emergency operation and a bout of pneumonia later, plus a rush to the surgical ward for a possible second operation, he is remarkably still alive. But we are now at that awful point, after maintaining his dignity and self respect at home for so long, that he can no longer walk, even with a walker, so needs to move into a nursing home. He has one unfilled goal in life that is keeping him going – to get his 100th birthday telegram from the Queen.
But all the trauma of registering a Power of Attorney for each of them, and taking that step from being the child to accepting that you’re now the parent, that’s hard. Making every small decision for someone you looked up to and who you remember being your protector. Probably the worse change of roles you can make in life.
It’s definitely a time of new possibilities but also a time of new responsibilities. Perhaps it’s only now that we truly grow up?!