Scofflaws, Cancer Fighters, and Entrepreneurs


I tell my kid to break the rules once in a while. It’s good for her.

Back in the dot-com frenzy, my husband and I started a small technology company in our kitchen. Within a week, it took over the guest room and then marched into our garage.

In the Bay Area, entrepreneurs like us snapped up every inch of rentable space, so no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find anyplace to lease. Finally, we resorted to a mini storage.

“We’ll snag the one closest to a power pole,” Gary said, “and I’ll bootleg electricity into the unit.”

“That doesn’t sound dangerous or illegal,” I answered back, but I knew we’d do it. Although working or living in the storage facility was strictly forbidden, we were desperate. These places are supposed to be for Christmas ornaments, your old wedding dress and other junk you should have given away.

Within a week, we had the space we needed, and a multitude of illegally-powered computer screens blinked at us while we grew our seed of a business into a healthy sapling.

Shhhh. Don't Tell.

Circumstances required us to hide our shenanigans from the on-site manager who walked the property as if he were guarding Fort Knox against the likes of Black Bart. Gary and I developed an elaborate lookout system to keep him at bay until ultimately we rented an airplane hanger at the Petaluma Airport. By that time, the stress of our situation gave Gary an adrenaline high and me a nervous twitch over my left eye.

Breaking the rules, at least in the short term, was the only way we were able to get that business off the ground. And believe me, we broke a lot of them.

And Then...

...came my cancer diagnosis, and I learned it was time to break the rules again, only this time, my life depended on it. Thankfully, many nurses and doctors were on board.

“I’m not allowed to do this,” one nurse said, punching her cell phone number into Gary’s contact list. “In fact, I could lose my job. But if you go through regular channels to make all the appointments you need, you’re never going to make it.”

She handed Gary a list of the tests and procedures I’d need to be cleared for chemo. “As soon as Nancy gets into one, call me, and I’ll set her up for the next one.”

I was at Stanford Hospital, and the only reason I got into that amazing institution is that the week before, Gary answered “yes” to a lot of questions to which he should have answered “no.”

“Call me 15 minutes before she’s out of the bone scan,” Super Nurse told Gary, “and I’ll slide her right into the biopsy.” “Oh, and don’t tell them you’re across town – say you’re down stairs if they ask.”

My oncologist helped too. “Don’t tell them you ate breakfast or they’ll make you reschedule - you don’t have time for that,” he whispered. I sat in his office, put my cellphone on speaker, and watched him nod or shake his head while I was peppered with questions.

Scofflaws Saved My Life

In business – and in healthcare – you have to be your own best advocate. Sometimes that means bending the rules.

My hope is that somewhere out there, a team of adventurous researchers are working tirelessly in a lab. They know they’re on to something good, that a break through cure is in the palm of their hands. And I hope this team will do what they must to release it into the light of day, even if it means breaking some rules.

The universe has a way of tossing obstacles into all our paths. You get pulled over the only time you’ve misplaced your drivers’ license. You’re late for work the morning someone brings cinnamon rolls. Or you run into your ex when you’re wearing sweat pants and the wrong shade of lipstick.

When these obstacles insinuate themselves into my life, I know what to do. I channel my inner entrepreneur, my Super Nurse, my renegade oncologist. And I persist. Because once in a while, the satisfying snap of a broken rule is exactly what my life needs.

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