Greg on finding a new work-life balance after a life changing experience

by Greg Felgate

20th March, 2019

In May last year my wife Kate and I had just had our second (my third!) child. I’d been trying to get to a place where I was happy with my work life balance and I had finally got there. Business was thriving and I was still able to spend time with the family, exercise a few times a week and see my friends once in a while. Life was good.

But then our three-year-old daughter Sophia was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia) in June and our world was turned upside down. We went from feeling really happy to being in total despair in minutes. All of a sudden nothing else mattered but getting our little girl better.

We are eight months into treatment now. The side effects from Chemo are too long to list but in short, they are brutal. Chemo won’t finish until August 2020 and whilst the prognosis is really good, around a quarter of children with ALL will relapse.

I’ve been back at work since mid-January and people keep saying to me that it must be nice to have some normality back. But I’m not sure we will ever get normality back. We’re currently trying to find a “new normal” – one that balances the needs of our daughter, the rest of the family and work. And I’d like to do a few things just for me every once and a while.

Since Sophia was diagnosed, I’ve been in constant contact with the founder of the business who has been very supportive, as has the rest of the team. But coming back into work after such a life changing experience was still a bit of a shock. To make things a bit easier, we agreed a phased return to work. For the first two months (Jan and Feb) my working days slowly increased from two days a week to four, with me splitting my time between home and the office. And I’m sticking on four days whilst Sophia is in treatment. We still have to go to the cancer clinic every couple of weeks and on the weeks that she’s not in hospital, I want to spend some time with the family catching up on some much needed fun.

Even though I’m working a four-day week, it’s still hard spending so much time away from the family. I was spending nearly 100% of my time with them from June until December and now I only see them for an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the evenings. I’m really grateful that I can work a four-day week and see my family more than a lot of people do, but it’s still strange.

Rather than jump back into my old role, the founder and I have agreed that I will deliver a set project between Jan and April. I think this was a really good move as it has meant that I can provide something of value to the business in my own time whilst I find my “new normal”.  We can then reassess in April and make a new plan.

I see a councillor every few weeks who helps me cope with it all. He introduced a really simple idea to me about slowly extending my ‘horizons’. So, when Sophia was first diagnosed we didn’t look forward much at all – our horizon was about an hour. As time has gone on, we managed to extend our horizon out to a week, then a couple of weeks and so on. My wife and I have roughly planned our year out now, with holidays and weekends away peppered in throughout. We’ve even penciled in a trip to Disneyland Florida just after treatment in September 2020!

Now I’m not sure who originally coined the phrase it’s PR not ER, but it couldn’t be anymore poignant for me now. To use a massive cliché for people going through things like this, it’s given me perspective. So, don’t get me wrong, I still really care about work and the job I’m doing, but I am definitely not stressing or worrying about it like I used to. I’ve also noticed that I’m not taking things personally anymore – this has allowed me to be much more present in the moment at home and at work, rather than worrying about things that may or may not happen.

I’m not sure if these changes to my way of thinking are permanent or not. But I have thought to myself that it is a shame that it takes a life changing experience like this to get some perspective. I guess if there is some advice I could offer out of this it would be to prioritise what is important to you and do those things now – don’t wait. Who knows when your normal could change.

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