Running a Company – with Cancer and Kids

Running a household is team sport.

EDITOR’S NOTE; Tiffany Ferguson is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board and is a permanent panelist on the long-running Monitor Mondays live Internet weekly radio broadcast.

This is not going to be an article about how I have it all figured out; I have had my share of eating humble pie, and am still very much a work in progress. However, I am hoping that in telling my story, I will in some way help others know that you not alone; our stories are different, but we all experience a range of emotions and competing priorities.

Maybe it was the pandemic that sparked introspection among some, or perhaps financial, career, or family changes caused many people to enter a period of transformation. Maybe it was homeschooling your children or caring for your parents that forced us towards a life that looks and feels different than before COVID. The short version for me was a cancer diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, followed by a stem cell transplant and then a pandemic. I should also set the stage that our household is a blended family, with six children, ages 5 to 13.

I had spent a significant amount of my career either providing care management at the bedside or running care management departments and divisions; however, I was no longer engaged with the political nature of my healthcare organization. As expected, cancer was a big wake-up call, and I realized I needed to adjust my priorities and be more intentional with my time. Although I love helping and being of service to others, I wanted to have some autonomy in my life and have a broader reach in my field, beyond just one healthcare organization. I had dreamed of joining Phoenix Medical Management for years after they completely overhauled our acute case management program, and in 2020 I made a full-time leap to helping my mentor, Stefani Daniels, run the company.

Transitioning to CEO means what I put into the company is returned; however, that also means that the pressure of and ability to pay our team members is waiting on leadership’s ability to maintain revenue streams. Thus, I knew I must be purposeful with my time to ensure I am moving the needle in business and managing priorities for my health and family. 

Here are some ways that I try to stay sane and run a company, while going through maintenance treatment and taking care of six kids. 

Acceptance of Imperfection
My quest to be perfect was thrown out the door when my college sweetheart and I got a divorce. The pressure I had been putting on myself for the desire to be happy (or what I thought happiness should look like) was unsustainable. The moment I admitted my faults, failures, and weaknesses and learned to own them as part of my story, I was free from the burden of “should.” I worked on my own journey of self to figure out my “whys” and “hows” on seeking to provide the same love and grace for myself that I was so easily willing to give others.

This means that my house does not have to be perfect. I would rather play board games or spend time with the kids over cleaning the house. It is not a hot mess, but with six kids, I must pick and choose my battles when it comes to clutter. Although I try to make most of our meals at home, there are plenty of times we run through the drive-through on the way to or home from one of the kids’ games or practices. 

As often as possible, I make a point to close the office doors in my house on Friday, and I do not open them again until Monday morning. Resting and self-care is just as productive as anything else you will do. I have learned to listen to my body, and when it says I am doing too much, I scale back and find time to rest and recover.

Managing a Household is a Team Sport
My husband and I have to be aligned in getting things accomplished for the kids and the household. We have our routine and have learned to communicate when something feels like it is too much, or if we are tapped out on the neediness scale from the demands of kids, life, and work. In our busy schedules, it is important to make sure we carve out time to check in with each other. This is usually when we are finishing up the dishes after dinner, before the kids come roaring back through the kitchen to tell us they are hungry again and to ask “what’s for dessert?”

The survival of our household also comes from a great relationship with our exes. This has not always been easy, but the flexibility and clear communication about what the shared kids need has been such a driver of each of our successes. Our exes deserve their personal time just as much as we do, and we make sure to all honor that with each other. The focus is always on what is best for the kids, thus avoiding any pettiness.

I am also blessed with my kid’s grandmother, who lives nearby and still is very much a great help for transportation, joining us for dinner, and just really being in our lives. I also have great friends who come in and help with rides or just hang out, and we provide great support to one another. Accepting help was not an initial strength of mine, but I have learned that when someone says, “what do you need” or “what can I help with,” I am honest with my response and now appreciate the offer.  

Organizational Skills
Wow, I should put a neon sign on this category. We have two calendars for both households to manage activities, parenting schedules, vacations, medical appointments, etc. I ensure that any major events also go on my work calendar so I am not missing anything from my personal life, because I am focused on my work life. I plan and communicate any times these two things intersect, which means I block my schedule if I need to get a child to the dentist, or if I need to coordinate rides and schedules if I am out of town for work. I have all calendars on my phone and computer, so I can pull them up wherever I am to reference when something new comes up or anything changes. 

Every week I also seek a bird’s-eye view, looking at my meetings and family schedules to make sure I have time for the actual work that needs to get accomplished. I then meal plan for the week (I hate this task, by the way), make the grocery list, and put together my to-do list of the things I feel I need to accomplish. It is common that I am changing over laundry or throwing something in the oven or crockpot in between workday meetings and business projects.

Setting my Intentions
After my cancer diagnosis, amid wondering how much time I get to have, I gained a whole new perspective on how lucky I am every day to be here, to do what I love, and to spend time with my family and friends. For all of us, life is precious, and we are not in total control. That means I must try to be intentional about my schedule, activities, and how I spend my days. I own my calendar, and that means if I do not want to spend my time in a meeting that I know will yield few results, then I find a way to politely decline or delegate it to someone for whom it is more suited. I prioritize my time in three major buckets: work, relationships, and personal. I then look at what I have to accomplish in these buckets each week and set my schedule, determine the needle-movers, and set to-dos accordingly. I have a notebook that helps me keep track of my daily events, and it is also where I try to journal before I start my workday. 

As mentioned, each day I try to journal for a couple of minutes, just what’s in my head before I start work – and I list a couple of gratitudes. I learned the hard way that I could spend my time doing tasks that make no difference in the projects or expectations that my clients have if I am not focused on what my objectives are each workday. I spent many years with a hectic morning, trying to get kids out of the house, only to run into my first meeting without time to decompress from the household I just left, when the kids decided they did not want to get dressed or brush their teeth that morning. By starting my day journaling and thinking of what I am grateful for, I can ensure that I check any hang-ups at the door and present my best self.

Granted, I could go on with any of these topics, but for sake of wrapping it up, let me conclude. I would say that running a company and managing a busy household requires flexibility and forgiveness. Sometimes, I am not going to be the best mom, or the mom that I want to be, and sometimes, I am not going to produce the greatest work that I want to put out to the world, but that is okay…because we are all just trying to manage. If I understand this, then I can easily guarantee the same compassion to others.

I hope that my own reflections provide some color and life to the content writer you see and hear each week on Monitor Mondays and RACmonitor.  


Tiffany Ferguson, LMSW, CMAC, ACM

Tiffany Ferguson is CEO of Phoenix Medical Management, Inc., the care management company. Tiffany serves on the ACPA Observation Subcommittee. Tiffany is a contributor to RACmonitor, Case Management Monthly, and commentator for Finally Friday. After practicing as a hospital social worker, she went on to serve as Director of Case Management and quickly assumed responsibilities in system level leadership roles for Health and Care Management and c-level responsibility for a large employed medical group. Tiffany received her MSW at UCLA. She is a licensed social worker, ACM, and CMAC certified.

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