How beating skin cancer helped me become a better founder

Not many people know that in 2010 I was diagnosed with skin cancer.

I remember the phone call; of all places I was in the Caribbean when the doctor told me the news. I think I was 20 years old.

The cancer manifested as a cut on my nose that wouldn’t heal — at first, I didn’t really think anything of it. I simply thought it was a persistent cut or spot. By the time I got it looked at, it had progressed quite a bit, it had almost spread to the cartilage of the nostril.

Two or three years later, and after six general anaesthetic operations, my nose and forehead were back to looking somewhat normal. So much so that if you glanced, I don’t think you’d notice. I had the cancer removed via Mohs surgery, and as for the nasal reconstruction, the consultant used a paramedian forehead flap.

Rather than make this post about the actual skin cancer, I wanted to touch upon how I believe the whole ordeal made me a more rounded person, and more importantly helped me become better suited to life as an entrepreneur and founder.


Not knowing if I’d ever look like “me” again after each operation, I have to admit was tough at first. It was made worse by the fact I was young, single, and part of the Instagram and Snapchat age. It would have been all too easy to fall into a negative spiral, thinking that this one seemingly innocent cut had put my life on another trajectory.

Resilience is probably one of the most important traits needed as an entrepreneur. By default everything about launching a business is geared toward telling you “no”. Sometimes even your closest friends will tell you that your business idea is destined for failure. This is hugely disheartening and sometimes it’s all to easy to buckle and eventually listen to everyone and take their no’s as the truth and pack it all in. Power through.

You will need a huge amount of strength to get through all the naysayers, find solutions at the most bleak of times, just to get through and live another day. Many many startups face this each and every month, it’s not just when getting your startup off the ground, if anything you’ll need the resilience even more further along your journey.

You’ll need to be clear headed, forward thinking, thick skinned and most of all, resilient.

Work-life balance

Ask anyone who has come up against health issues, and they’ll instantly tell you that it gave them perspective. It gave them perspective on what’s really important in life. For me, happiness, sense of purpose, family, friends and leaving the world in better shape than when I found it.

It’s too easy for an entrepreneur or founder to run themselves into the ground, neglect their family, health and friends. When I find myself working too much or putting too many hours in, I have to pause for a moment and remember that the business isn’t forever; further, the business isn’t permanent – I can live without it. Family, friends and health trump it every time.

Never be too proud to seek help or talk with someone

This one will be relatively short, as it’s pretty obvious.

You’re obviously battling quite a bit mentally and physically during the recovery. It helps an incredible amount to be able to lean on family and friends to talk through what you are feeling.

Same can be said with entrepreneurs, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And I guarantee at some point you’ll go through mental difficulties, you’ll start to doubt yourself, you’ll get a bit lost. Don’t be too proud to talk about your problems, fears or worries with someone. You business will be stronger and better as a result.

Understanding that nothing is forever

This has a bunch of meanings for me; first, quite literally — nothing is forever. Steve Jobs commencement speech always resonates with me on this point — if you’ve got 15 mins or so, go check it out.

So don’t get hung up on the small details. If you are angry at someone or something, it usually isn’t worth the stress.

Not giving a s%*t

Somewhat related to a point I made when talking about resilience; during the recovery I eventually made my way out of the apartment to get a coffee. I stood in line to order my latte. Young kids, they are naturally inquisitive, and don’t really know the boundaries of society. I remember standing in line and a kid seeing me, then asking his parents what was wrong with me whilst pointing, haha. Overall I didn’t actually mind, I know the kid was just interested, they’d seen something different for the first time and wanted to understand it. However, as the weeks and months went on, you certainly notice kids pointing, people glancing at you, people giving you their seats on the tube, etc. etc. It can start to grind you down, if you care and if you let it.So I guess this is a long way of saying, you eventually have to not give a s%*t, and deal with the hand you were dealt. You have to suck it up and get on with life.

Life’s the same as an entrepreneur; perhaps your star employee just quit, perhaps funding fell through at the last moment, the list is endless. You have to remember to come up for air and not get too stressed about stuff that’s out of your hands.

Thank you

Thanks for taking the time to read through this, it’s not an exhaustive list but we would have been here all day. I’d also conclude by saying try your utmost to be kind to everyone you meet, you never know the battles they are fighting privately. Perhaps I’ll expand on this post at some point in the future.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash