Health crisis survivors complications

You may have to make changes to recover from a health crisis.

surviving a major personal health crisis

Every year thousands of people become terrified because of a significant own health crisis or medical condition. It will seriously affect their families, their retirement, their careers and their businesses. It starts when they hear those dreaded words, “cancer, heart attack, or car accident”.

The good news is that these days many people beat the diseases and recover from car accidents. But when the treatment has concluded the person’s life has changed, their vision has changed as have their priorities. Sometimes their personal and business relationships can disintegrate for no apparent reason following a significant health crisis.

A Case Study  by Peter Sergeant

Positive friendships are born during a health crisis

I can remember the loss I felt when Ron Waller passed away; he was in the hospital with me when I had cancer and died a year later during his recovery phase. It is a loss I still feel today as this man helped me in my darkest hours.  Through all the pain and suffering, as I was able to help him through the pain of his operation. We helped each other. I know many people who have passed away, but Ron was exceptional.

Ron’s death hit me at the very core of my being as it could have been me. The friendship we built in just two weeks was more in-depth, more personal, and more meaningful than any relationship I had ever had, or have had since.  When I told Ron’s wife, Betty, that I was including something about him in the experiences I was writing about, she handed me this letter I had written to her.

Letters can be hard to write

7th January 1991

Dear Betty,

I was so shocked to hear of Ron’s passing just before Christmas.  It was a very traumatic experience for me as it must have been for you and your wonderful family. Looking back, I feel very privileged to have shared some of my life with Ron.  The experiences we shared under such pressure allowed us to get to know each other better than if we had spent many years together.

I will always remember, the night he jumped out of bed to stop me pulling all my tubes and wires off – the pile of prawn heads the visitors had to jump over – the beautiful steaks with mozzarella cheese – the morning he took George and me on a trip to Antarctica (starting at 3 o’clock in the morning) – and of course the way he always looked for his family (and mine) each day.

The way he treated the people who came in contact with him, even when he was in severe pain, will always be an inspiration to me.

Betty, I just wanted you to know that I will always remember Ron as one of the great people in my life, and I will look forward to cooking him that Chinese Banquet in heaven. Should there ever be anything, I can help you with please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Love from us both.

Peter and Sue 

Few people will understand your dilemma

Until recently, few have imagined that surviving cancer could be an experience comparable to surviving a war or natural disaster. People generally know what to do when they are with a sick person. But don’t know what to do after the event, so they stay away.

It applies equally to when your business is sick, as my wife and I found out when we closed our business due to the drought of the early 1980s. I remember one close friend drove past our house four times before he dared to come in and see us. Have you ever felt lonely when people seem to desert you? It has a direct effect on your emotional well-being.

You feel isolated, anxious and disconnected despite the people who stay around you. And you yearn for companionship, which may be there but you fail to recognise and reach out. Most people have had no experience either in a health crisis or a business crisis. They might have some thoughts, usually negative ones, but they have no real idea on how to react and help you.

Pioneering research was happening at the time.

Groundbreaking research into cancer survivors was conducted in 2000 by Professor Miles Little and Professor Stuart Dunn of Sydney University.  The study, aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program at the time was aptly named Surviving Survival. It showed that for many people, surviving cancer is just the beginning of a process that is more difficult and more painful than the illness itself, my family can attest to this fact.

According to this research, victory over cancer is not the end of the journey. In some cases, it is just the beginning of a much broader struggle, which may be even worse than the original diagnosis and treatment. Professor Miles says this may sound extreme and exaggerated, but it is the message he has received over and over again. I can certainly concur with his findings. It was hard to believe how much of their results had applied to me. Not just on my first health crises, but others I have had since.

As Professor Dun found, most people felt abandoned and lost when the treatment was over. It is the same with family, friends and business associates; they think it is over when the treatment is over. They believe the business is right when the advisors have left.

“There are survivors out there who are leading greatly enriched lives, beyond what they were before. It is amazing just what a change will do. But there are also a large number of survivors who are leading lives that are full of stress”, says research leader Professor Miles Little. “Survivors may find their relationships fall apart. Some feel enormous guilt for having survived, while others did not. They may live in constant fear of recurrence. Unfortunately, some are saddled with stigma and may face discrimination in the workplace.”

Health issues will become a hot topic in business circles.

Health issues as they relate to smaller businesses, will become a hot topic in the future, and I can understand why. Having personally survived cancer, a heart attack and a malignant melanoma I feel very much in touch with the issues involved. Not to mention being inflicted with high blood pressure, diabetes and a few years ago suddenly becoming stone deaf in my right ear.

My illnesses all started with bowel cancer in 1989; I had been perfectly healthy until I was 46. The impact was quite devastating to us as a family. There were no clear-cut guidelines for us to follow. We just had to struggle through, trying to get ourselves back to normal, by ourselves and as best we could. There were many complex questions which had to be answered to move forward even though we received many telephone calls, letters and visits.  We rarely came across anyone who understood. As a family, we put on a brave front.

You stop trusting your body.

It was only because of my persistence the cancer was discovered. I just knew something was not right, even though at the time I felt healthy and very much alive. The first specialist I went to said there was nothing wrong. The second specialist couldn’t get me on the operating table fast enough. If I hadn’t persisted, I probably wouldn’t have survived. No one can afford to take chances, have regular checkups with your doctor.

The same happened with the malignant melanoma on my shoulder, which had been there all my life. It suddenly made its move, and again I was told if it had not been removed, I probably would not have lasted another six months. It was the realisation of my worst fears. Cancer had once again reared its ugly head. Not that it was associated with first cancer in any way.

Both times I would have been dead if it had not been for my wife and my persistence. I had a feeling about my body, and I insisted on having it checked, unlike some, we know who are afraid to find out the truth. For many years now, we have lived with the fear of what would be next? It encourages us to maintain regular checkup.

You can’t stop thinking about your business.

With my family’s and my energy levels down and a loss of self-confidence in decision making, it was difficult fighting depression. Feeling alone and helpless was severe enough, but we still had to deal with the pressures of running a business, despite the health crisis.

I have learnt from these experiences that there are many similarities with business. The gut feelings about what is going on. Feelings of inadequacy, loss of self-confidence in decision making. Being alone and helpless as well as the fear of the unknown, rejection, lack of motivation, energy and vigour, is difficult.

What was our role in life now? With me facing the possibility of a shortened lifespan, we had to get back to “normal” whatever that was. We now know that things definitely do not go back to “normal” or whatever existed previously, it is impossible. Did we have a right to be excited about the future?

We were blessed having a great family. Struggling to find clarity in a new direction was not easy. Something that must be horrific if you are on your own. We were suffering from a lack of understanding and qualified input from other people who had practical experience.

Perhaps we did not know how to express our feelings appropriately; no one knew how best to guide us. Our perceptions of inadequacy were reinforced by negativity or dismissed by others. There were too many social expectations.  To some, Sue and I were seen as heroes for surviving. We did not know how to react to the assumption.

Many people are only ‘fair weather sailors’

“Just give me the good news” people would say, they did not want to know, or how to handle the health crisis. Most people were too busy worrying about their position to follow up or want to understand ours. Others shut you out because they do not understand, or can’t cope with significant trauma.

Spouses continuously worry about the outcomes; they too carry the same fears. It is challenging for a spouse to continually change from lover to being a carer, to love again. Relationship breakdowns are often the norm. Our children carried an unnecessary and excessive burden of worry because they didn’t know how to cope. Likewise, family members didn’t know how to react, as they had had no training either.

People want you to “just get over it”, as did I, but they don’t know how to help you do this, and this compounds the stress. Like in a business, they can quickly tell you what needs doing, but don’t know how to do it themselves.

You can recover from a health crisis

What do you do after the initial recovery from a major health crisis? It’s certainly not the end of the world. There are several critical things needed to be discussed with people that have practical experience. Here are some thought starters from my experience:

Financial recovery both personal and business

You think recovery from a health crisis will happen quickly, once you have passed the initial recovery stage. In many instances, this will not be the case. We as a family are still carrying the financial scars caused by cancer twenty-five years on.

Management of your business, your career or your personal life

Will you cope? At worst, you become incapable of making rational and timely decisions. At best it adds additional stress and pressure to your life when you need it least. Your self-confidence needs to be rebuilt, as your emotional wound heals.

You will eventually change the way you do things and become less tolerant of incompetent people and find it is easier to make the tough decisions. After all, you now realise perhaps for the first time how fragile life is. Anything can happen to you in the next hour, so let’s make the most of this one.

Lifestyle considerations have to be considered.

Consider looking at a fresh start. How you go about things in your life, what changes do you have to make and what changes would you like to make. Perhaps this is your chance to change to the lifestyle you have always dreamed of having. Lifestyle changes can improve your life. Change the way you want to live and work by changing the culture you operate in and bring some balance into your life,

The Placebo effect

More commonly known as “mind over matter” can have a positive impact on your ultimate recovery. There is nothing like a sugar pill to make you feel better. I was very fortunate that my wife was a nurse and understood this, and she did what was necessary to help me recover.

More commonly known as “mind over matter” can have a positive effect on your ultimate recovery. There is nothing like a sugar pill to make you feel better. I was very fortunate that my wife was a nurse and understood this, and she did what was necessary to help me recover.

Look for the turning point.

It is the point at which everything comes together after the health crisis and business starts to work again. Immediately following the cancer operation, I was not allowed to eat anything until I had “passed wind”, and on the tenth day, it happened. There was much cheering and celebrating when it happened, an amusing reaction to something that we take for granted every day of our lives.

It meant my system was working again. The message, look for your “turning point”. Look for the event or set of circumstances that will indicate to everyone that the business, your career or your personal life, will start to work successfully again. Reaching this turning point can take an excruciatingly long time and can be incredibly frustrating. If you and your family do not apply yourselves and your resources to achieve this turning point, it will take even longer, or worse still you may never reach it.

Implementation and propagation of your previous vision

Will it happen after a health crisis, is it time you looked for a whole new direction as it is unlikely things will stay the same?

Succession planning

What if you had not survived? It is a wake-up call for you to get your affairs in order, now. Sometimes it takes a health crisis to make people take appropriate action. Start with your Will.

Try to let it go and put it behind you.

Remember the trauma was and is a massive part of your life. I see the scars every day to remind me. It is not just a matter of putting it behind you. You need to firmly establish ways and means of moving forward positively and dealing with each issue as it arises. 

How do you and your family handle the health crisis

The impact of a significant health crisis affects others almost as much as it affects the person going through the problem. You can not dismiss their feelings as unimportant, because they are, particularly if they care about you. Take the time to involve them in discussions with others, particularly the people providing you with experiential and or professional advice. You, as the patient, must continually assess your relationships and put in extra effort, to keep them on the right track.

Learn as much as you can about your health crisis

Talk to the “Cancer Line”, the” Heart Foundation” and your specialists. Attend workshops and seminars. Read some books about other people’s experiences. Do some research on the Internet. You don’t know it all; they are learning new things every day about diseases, accidents,  cures and the long-term management of them. Just as you are learning more about running a business and it’s long-term management and survival.

What counselling do you need

You will probably find you are not that tough after all, and a little enlightenment about your health crisis will go a long way. Your health crisis is something new, and you must look at it positively. Be open to a fresh approach. I wish I had seen a well-trained counsellor with a lot of practical experience, as they can make such a difference, both personally and in their business outlook.

Use the experience to enrich yours and others lives.

I thought I was doing this until I saw the report of Professor Miles and Dunn. Sure I helped a lot of people cope with the problem that they faced, but I always kept my inner feeling to myself. In hindsight, these feelings were the most important ones to be sharing.

The feelings of someone who has been through a similar health crisis need to be discussed as they are significant.  It gets back to what I have learned in the business, try to explain your problems with someone who has had the practical experience. Someone who has been there and done it, someone who understands what it is all about. The kind of expert advice you often need for your business, and most certainly need in your life cannot be learned or understood from theory alone.

It gets back to what I have learned in the business, try to discuss your problems with someone who has had the practical experience. Someone who has been there and done it, someone who understands what it is all about. The kind of expert advice you often need for your business and most certainly need in your life, cannot be learned from the theory.


You can always find something to live for, something to help you look forward to the future.

Stress is a normal part of your recovery and inputting your life back together again.

Identify the turning points. When you have passed one turning point look for the next one. Do not wait for life to come to you; it won’t. My problems weren’t with cancer they arrived after the cure. As my wife often says the operation was the easy part. Excessive stress can bring on another health crisis, so take steps to avoid it.

Stop the worrying; it only ages you faster.

Most people find it difficult to think and do positive things when you are worried about failure. In my experience, the fear of failure paled into insignificance after I had cancer. I had so much to do with my life that I did not have time to worry about things that probably would never happen. It is the health crisis and failures you have along the way that gives you the experience and make you what you are. Experience is what you need to understand t failures generally come before your success.

You must be relieved of the stress of thinking that you are a failure.

There will always be people who are less fortunate than you. Remember the definition of insanity “doing the same old things and expecting a different outcome”. Surround yourself with positive people who are full of life, not with negative and critical ones. You may even find the power of prayer is more significant than you think.

You need to break loose from paralysis.

No matter how serious your problems, you have a life to get under control and inject the fun back into life. The people in the Para-Olympics taught us that. You must look for continuous improvement in everything that you do, including the quality of your life. Look for people and processes, in fact, anything that increases your belief levels.

You must try daily to reduce the turmoil in your life and replace the negatives with positives. If you only have space in your brain for a hundred positive things. Why waste ninety-eight positions on negative things?

In the interests of good health and well-being, struggles need stopping.

People can be adversely affected by a health crisis or economic downturn. Many become stressed out, struggling to find something new, or merely trying to keep up. Looking for a quick fix, or to start another business as their ‘Plan B’, as a way of providing for their family and the future, may not be the answer. The struggle will continue if you are not following your dream, improving your knowledge and working to your strengths. Make sure you use the best technology you can afford.

Don’t compare your life to others as you have no idea what their journey is all about. Anyone can find an excuse, particularly when they can blame something or someone else. Whatever your struggle is, it can cause stress that will lead to physical and mental problems? It does you no good to keep struggling, wishing and hoping things will get better because if something goes wrong, your struggle continues.

You realise what is happening, your health crisis was a close call, and it will be over soon. Don’t just walk away from the problem, or frustration relieved, think about what you could have done differently.

Am I pleased with the way I have handled my health crisis?

No, not in hindsight.  I feel I did not cope very well at all. If I had my time over again, I would certainly do more research on the health crisis and what happens after the event. I would also find people who had been through similar traumas and seek their counsel. And I would immediately retain the services of an experienced, qualified counsellor. It was during this time that I coined the phrase “it’s too hard doing it by yourself”.

I hope these thoughts have been useful to you. And you find, as we have, that life has many more good things to offer than the average person will ever experience. If I can be of help in any way, please contact me. I would love to have your feedback.


Nutrition has a significant bearing on your health and well-being. Fast food is still fast food, no matter how you dress it up.

Quotable quotes

“Are you making yourself sick by not being in control of your attitude to your health and well-being”? Peter Sergeant

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming”. Helen Keller

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