Life is funny sometimes, in ways that you could never anticipate. Never in our wildest dreams could Chris and I have ever imagined that she would get a spinal tumor at the age of 37. We were not prepared for the upheaval and emotional challenges that it would bring, let alone the impact to our careers.
Chris had been in perfect health up until that point. Our life was so good then, too. We traveled regularly, and we had just started shopping for a house that would be larger and more comfortable than our townhouse. Our careers were both going well, and we had both received promotions and raises as our careers sailed along. We worked hard for our employers, and were rewarded for that hard work.
But by December 2005, we urgently needed to create two plans due to Chris’s upcoming spinal surgery: we needed a Life Emergency Plan and a Career Emergency Plan.
Life Emergency Plan (LEP)
Chris would need to undergo four hours of difficult spinal surgery to remove the tumor that was putting pressure on her spinal cord, and she would need a few months to recover and go through rehab after that. Since her spinal cord would be impacted, Chris would also need to learn how to walk again. So, for our personal lives, we needed an LEP to help manage new changes at home, which included:
Career Emergency Plan (CEP)
- Obtaining durable medical equipment, such as walkers
- Taking a more active role in running the household, as Chris’s strength, stamina, and mobility would be limited for at least a few months
- Rearranging our furniture so that we could move one of our beds to our living room, as Chris would be unable to navigate the stairs to get to the second floor
- Adjusting our finances and household expenses. Chris would miss a few months of work, and she was making nearly twice as much as I was at that point in our careers. As a result, we would need to access our Rainy Day Savings Fund. We also incurred large hospital bills.
To complement our Life Emergency Plan, we also needed a strategy for the career side of our lives. These 5 essentials helped us to keep both our jobs and our sanity.
1. Rainy Day Savings Fund: We all have emergencies or unexpected expenses that will occur from time to time, and Chris being out of work for a few months wasn’t just a big life event – it was a true emergency.
2. Support From Your Company: This includes the senior management, not just the HR department. You might need to request a leave of absence or use up a large chunk of your PTO. Chris and I were both fortunate enough to work for great companies that gave us generous support and incredible flexibility. As one example, EMA let me work at the hospital during Chris’s hospital stay and work from home during the first few weeks of Chris’s recovery from surgery, as her mobility was restricted, and she needed help with everyday tasks.
3. A Great Boss: If you’ve been reading my column, you’ve heard me previously speak of my former boss at Eric Mower and Associates, Gene Hallacy. Regardless of what happened throughout my career with the agency, Gene always had my back. More than once, he even traveled to do client presentations for me when I had to stay behind in Charlotte to take care of Chris. Chris’s boss at Office Environments, Barry Bale, was just as supportive as Gene. As VP of Sales at OE, Barry bent over backwards to accommodate Chris, and he guaranteed that Chris would have a spot on the OE sales team when she was ready to go back to work. Having great co-workers is key too, as they will have to take up the slack from your workload while you are out of the office.
4. Good Client Relationships: Having customers that understand your situation can make all the difference. Chris and I both informed our clients that we would be out of the office for an extended period of time so that they would know who would be working on their account while we were gone.
5. Excellent Communication: So, how do you make all of the components of your Career Emergency Plan work together seamlessly? The key factor is communication – with your boss, co-workers, clients, HR department, and senior management of your company. Managing expectations is critical too. Both your employer and your clients need to know what they can expect from you during this time of crisis.
Since we were prepared with both a Life Emergency Plan and Career Emergency Plan, we were able to juggle doctors’ appointments that took place during the work day, hospital visits, and physical therapy appointments. Having work schedule flexibility from our employers allowed us to manage all that we needed to for a few months. That experience would serve us well, as sixteen months later, Chris would get another spinal tumor, and we would need to repeat this process all over again. Fortunately, we had our emergency plans to once again fall back on
Scott G. Howard worked in the advertising agency business as a media buyer and media director for nearly twenty-five years. He is now an author, storyteller, and freelance writer, and writes from his unique perspective on relationships and life. Scott was born in Syracuse, NY and resides in Charlotte, NC, where he has lived for almost twenty years.