Running a business takes a lot of time and energy. What happens to a company when the business owner’s health is compromised? Two public relations professionals share their experiences with health setbacks and tell how they kept their companies running.

“I completed chemo and radiation in January and am the proud owner of a wig that I hope I will never have to wear again,” says Sandy Hermanoff, CEO and president of Hermanoff & Associates, a PR firm in Michigan. “Actually, my hair is very curly now, so it’s easy to scoot out the door to the office faster.”

When Hermanoff was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2006, she was devastated, but determined to keep going.  “It took about two days to sink in and two more days to figure out how I was going to do everything,” admits Hermanoff, who was used to working 10-hour days. In addition to running her business, she sat on five boards, including Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit – a community for families touched by cancer. A week after her diagnosis, that board elected her as president.

Hermanoff cites the support of her fellow board members from not only Gilda’s Club but the YMCA and Ohio State as part of her network that helped her get through her health crisis. She also had the support of her family, including her husband, who went to every chemo treatment with her, and her son, who called her on his drive home from work several times a week.

“My team at the office knew I would be out every other Friday for four months,” Hermanoff recalls. “They were willing to take on extra tasks, but I was able to handle everything. I never missed a beat with a client.” Hermanoff tried to keep her work hours to eight or nine a day and managed to work out every morning.

For Hermanoff, the most devastating part of her illness was having to wear a wig. She tells of attending a meeting with people who didn’t know about her situation, feeling very self-conscious. “One of the guys in the room said, ‘Sandy, I like your new hairdo.’ At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I realized he was making an honest comment. So I thanked him, and we went on with our meeting. Just like that.”

In July 2006, Melody Townsel was in a horrific car crash after leaving a business meeting. She eventually had surgery to begin mending a shattered lower left leg and ankle. Townsel says the accident couldn’t have come at a worse time for her company. She had just been retained to handle PR and stage-booking for a major, ongoing women’s expo.

“My client freaked out, given his financial commitment to the Expo, and I immediately retained special help — a senior PR professional who worked freelance — for the duration of our contract,” Townsel explains. “I also rented and had delivered a mobility scooter, and even arranged for the scooter people to rent a booth at the conference, which generated some unexpected revenue for my client.”

Despite her debilitating injuries, Townsel pulled off the job, although it was at the expense of some downtime after surgery.  “My surgeon couldn’t believe I hadn’t stopped working. When he asked me if I needed a note for my employer, I just laughed and told him my employer was myself, and I wasn’t cutting me any slack,” Townsel recalls.

Since the accident, Townsel has solidified ties with both the senior PR freelancer she turned to for the Expo as well as two small, independent PR firms that she now partners with on business regularly. “If something were to happen now, I believe I have the relationships in place to help me muddle through,” says Townsel. “Given the small size of my company, though, no crisis, health or otherwise, is easy to handle.”

Hermanoff says she and her second-in-command copy one another on everything so if either has an emergency or issue, they won’t miss a beat with a client.  “We’re insurance buddies for each other, which gives us peace of mind,” says Hermanoff.  She emphasizes that to get through a health crisis, ask for and accept all support and try to avoid self-pity.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.