First three months

How better to celebrate my first three months as CEO of Solving Kids’ Cancer than to launch my CEO blog. I’m challenging myself to step out of “corporate speak” and instead speak from the heart - given the charity I have the privilege of leading is a children’s cancer charity, that shouldn’t be much of a challenge.  

I started my new job in the early days of lockdown - you’d think that the first subject I’d choose to discuss would be COVID-19 -  and the devastating impact it’s having on charities generally; specifically, medical research charities, the majority of which have sadly not benefitted from any government aid or support. Solving Kids’ Cancer is no different – we rely solely on funds raised by the public and find ourselves facing a 45% drop in income this year. Not an ideal starting point for a new CEO… 

So many charity CEO’s are in the same position – we are all worried about our financial sustainability and we are all talking about it – a lot – because it’s hard and it’s scary. All any of us want is for our charities to not only survive, but thrive, to be able to serve the people we are here to support long into the future. So, we talk about resilience, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury. We all recognise the need for our organisations to be resilient - to be robust enough to navigate through these very choppy waters and to recover quickly. But I’m not going to talk about that kind of resilience here.  

I want to use this first blog to talk instead about personal resilience, as it’s been at the very core of my experience as the new CEO here. And I’m no stranger to personal resilience. I started my career in frontline children’s social work; both in New York City and London. I’ve been witness to things that are almost unspeakable. And so, when the Trustee Board, during my recruitment process, questioned me very intensely about my own personal resilience I like to think that I scored highly. I remember thinking that they had focussed on that question for an overly long time.  

Three months in, I finally understand why. Of course, my Board didn’t anticipate COVID-19 when they spoke of the personal resilience required to lead Solving Kids’ Cancer. And I can’t avoid mentioning this in relation to personal resilience, as COVID-19 has inevitably affected us all, personally, and professionally in very profound ways. I am separated from my own elderly parents by the Atlantic Ocean and I don’t know when I will be able to see them again. The families we support are having to shield with their children and for many, in addition to the stark reality of living with cancer, they face additional financial and emotional hardships as a result. But even without COVID-19, the work of Solving Kids’ Cancer is all about personal resilience. 

Within the first few weeks in post, whilst sitting in my home office having not yet properly met any of my new colleagues, two children whose families the team had been supporting so intensely, tragically passed away. The sheer devastation and pain experienced by those families sits with me still, and I expect always will. Alongside this, I became so focussed on how I was going to support my team, as the ones on the frontline who need to be available to support families directly  – “I’m new, I’m miles away from any of them, I’m talking to them through my computer screen – how on earth am I going to do this?” But what I came to learn and value and appreciate is that personal resilience runs through the very heart of this organisation – this is a team who have sadly experienced this before, and who know they will again.  

This is a team, some of whom have had their own personal experience of losing a child to neuroblastoma, who in that moment, put the needs of those families first – even before their own. They explain to me, each in their own way, that the work they do inspires them to do this. That for every tragic loss there always must be a re-doubling of efforts to find a cure for this disease, to find better treatment options in the UK, to further advances in research more quickly. Every member of the team feels each individual loss keenly and then they resolve to do more. They bond with each family we support and champion the children with absolute determination.  

It is the most unique experience of working within a charity team that I have ever had. It is personal, as well as professional. One of the families we support described the Solving Kids’ Cancer team as being like an extended family. That they truly felt the team stood alongside them at the very hardest, rawest, most painful moments.  

This absolute dedication is infectious – it has affected me – personal resilience has a completely new meaning and new value to me. I know now that even something like COVID-19 won’t stop this team – this Board – these families – from fighting for our shared cause. It’s personal, and professional. And I’m all in.