SurvivorshipWork and Cancer

How My Battle Against Cancer Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

“I think most entrepreneurs believe they are superhuman,” says Jonathan Passley, a business owner, husband, and new father, whose world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 29.
February 2018 Vol 4 No 1
Jonathan Passley
Towson, Maryland

I stood slumped over the bathroom sink in my office, in shock, staring at the pool of blood I just threw up. In the upcoming weeks, I would undergo emergency surgery to remove tumors from my liver and stomach, and eventually be diagnosed with a stage IV cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor, or GIST.

As a 29-year-old business owner, husband, and new father, my world was turned upside down. It has been a difficult journey, but I’ve learned many lessons along the way, which have ultimately made me a better person and an entrepreneur. Here are 7 lessons that I’ve learned running a business while battling cancer.

You’re Not Invincible

I think most entrepreneurs believe they are superhuman. We’re always working, barely sleeping, and juggling several responsibilities within our businesses and personal lives. Many times you’ll find entrepreneurs adopt healthy lifestyles in attempts to optimize their body to maximize their focus and performance throughout the workday.

I was one of those entrepreneurs. From hot yoga in a 106-degree heated room to putting butter in my organic coffee every morning, I tried every health hack that would keep me feeling “superhuman,” believing I had a competitive advantage over everyone else.

After being diagnosed with cancer, I quickly realized these were just feelings, not reality. Taking preventive measures doesn’t make you immune to cancer.

Adversity can sneak into your life whether you’re prepared for it or not. Life is guaranteed to have its ups and downs, so don’t get too comfortable with either direction.

Your Team Is Vital to Your Success

During my cancer journey, I found myself with what I like to call my support team. My team was comprised of my wife, oncologist, nutritionist, acupuncturist, massage therapist, and chiropractor. Everyone played a vital role in my fight against cancer.

Business is no different. Many entrepreneurs believe that they are the business, and they can run everything themselves. That is dangerous thinking.

It’s likely that I would have had to close my business, if it weren’t for my amazing team at PDR Web Solutions. Once they heard about my diagnosis, everyone stepped up, covered for me, and the business ran smoothly without a hiccup. I was thankful, as some of my employees took it upon themselves to cook meals for me and my family during my recovery.

There’s More to Life Than Business

There I was, on a hospital bed, barely conscious, with an oxygen tube stuffed down my throat, moments away from emergency surgery. I held my wife’s hand, looked up at her and my 2-month-old son, and prayed, “God please don’t take me away from them.”

That day I wasn’t thinking about business, achieving my goals, or finishing my never-ending to-do list. Those things became irrelevant. It’s easy for an entrepreneur to get lost in the grind of running the business and lose focus on what is really important.

I’ve since learned that business is similar to a game. It takes strategy to win, and can be fun to play, but it’s dangerous for it to completely consume your life. For me, God, family, friends, and helping others are important priorities I maintain in my life.

You Can’t Control Everything

For one year after my diagnosis, I refused medication and attempted to heal myself naturally. I tried to control the situation and find my own solution. Well, that decision almost killed me.

I believe we all want to control our lives, but life sometimes reminds us that we are never truly in complete control. In my business, we recently had a client leave us, because he wanted to “try something new.”

This is the same client whom we helped to grow his business from generating barely 6 figures to more than $7 million in annual revenue in just 5 years.

We did everything we could for this client, and the results prove it, but some things are outside of our control.

Be Careful What Advice You Follow

As I tried to heal myself naturally, I found myself taking advice from everyone online. From online forums, videos, and social media to bloggers, I listened to everyone, except to qualified doctors.

The worst advice I listened to online was, “Tumors can swell right before they die off.” I know you may be thinking, “Yes, that is very bad advice.” That advice, among other things I listened to, almost cost me my life.

Many unqualified people with good intentions tried to share their advice with me about business and marketing. I’ve learned to filter out the “noise,” and only consider advice from those who have qualified skills, training, and real experience regarding what they are discussing.

Sometimes It Takes More than Determination

I’ve faced many challenges throughout my life at an early age. To name a few, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at age 7, started a business at age 22, with limited support from those closest to me, and was diagnosed with cancer at age 29. Determination and persevering through adversity are things I am very familiar with. But I’ve learned that everyone has a breaking point.

There came a point in my cancer journey, where I became mentally exhausted. From my personal experience, I had to lean on my faith in God and the support of family to get me through this battle.

Many entrepreneurs think that their “hustle,” hard work, and determination are all they need to achieve their goals. I used to think that way, but I’ve found that it takes a lot more than that. You need the support of a good team, strategy, processes, systems, and more. Your self-determination will only take you so far.

Be Selfless, Not Selfish

“Help others in the midst of your challenge.” This is an attitude I adopted in my cancer journey. I learned to help others while I was struggling and needed help myself.

I began documenting my journey on YouTube with the purpose of encouraging other patients with cancer. As my videos became popular, I started a Facebook group called Christians Battling Cancer (, where those battling cancer and their caregivers and loved ones can support and encourage each other through their journeys.

Goals are important to help chart the direction of our lives. But I learned to ask myself, “Do my goals have purpose? Are my goals only for selfish reasons, or do they have a purpose outside of myself?”

I’ve learned to realign my purpose to use my skills, resources, and influence to help others, whether that is to help my employees, clients, friends, family, or even complete strangers. It is better to give than to receive. To learn more about my experience, visit

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Last modified: April 9, 2018

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