Article: Life lessons: How a CEO who beat cancer balances life and work

Life @ Work

Life lessons: How a CEO who beat cancer balances life and work

Just before she turned 30, Liya Shuster-Bier was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. After recalibrating her routine and philosophy to staying healthy, she now shares her lessons on achieving genuine work-life balance.
Life lessons: How a CEO who beat cancer balances life and work

The CEO of an online marketplace for cancer care products shared how her entire life was turned upside-down one day after discovering she had a rare form of the disease.

Liya Shuster-Bier was living the typical busy life of a professional in the business world. She had worked as an analyst for Goldman Sachs, finished her MBA at the prestigious Wharton School, and even helped a social impact startup in Boston get its start. She was on her way to a long and prosperous career.

However, everything in Shuster-Bier’s life suddenly came to a halt. In 2018, just before she turned 30, she was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This forced her to undergo chemotherapy during her first bout with cancer, then both chemo and stem cell transplant treatment when the disease returned a few months later.

With the disease taking her away from her career and the life she knew, Shuster-Bier was left with a lot of time on her hands to reflect. She looked back at how she had been pushing her body, barely taking a break to rest and heal.

“I didn’t sleep for years,” Shuster-Bier told CNBC, reflecting on how she approached her life and career before she was diagnosed with cancer.

It was at that time when she realised that she needed to change her lifestyle, especially her priorities, if she were to heal her body.

Read more: 7 types of rest we all need

Founding Alula and striking a healthy work-life balance

In 2019, Shuster-Bier made up her mind to start her own company that would help people like her deal with the struggles of cancer diagnosis. She founded the online marketplace Alula, which offers current and former cancer patients with products that would help manage their treatment symptoms.

“Cancer survivorship is on the rise, meaning all of these patients will need support long after they’ve entered remission and beyond,” she told The Hustle in early 2021. “We are building a platform for the entire lifecycle of cancer, from diagnosis and treatment, to recovery and (sometimes) bereavement.”

As part of Alula’s founding, Shuster-Bier raised US$2m to fund her venture. She now has a three-person team to help her run the company. But, even in her busy schedule as an entrepreneur, Shuster-Bier does not forget to make time to rest and let her body recover. She has a hard stop to help her know when it is time to step away from work. “After 7 p.m., you’re not allowed to Slack or email or set up a meeting at work,” she said.

Shuster-Bier typically begins her work day at 10 a.m. but tries to keep to her 7 p.m. hard stop. She also applies this philosophy to her co-workers to make sure they get a healthy work-life balance as well.

If anyone on her team needs to pull late-night work, Shuster-Bier would instead ask them to schedule their emails or any other form of communication for the following morning.

“I did that so I could go to sleep at night and not be bombarded by emails and slacks,” the Alula boss explained. “And it [has] worked. The same rule applies for weekends.”

Shuster-Bier said she respects if other people choose to work during the weekend to clear out some emails ahead of the next work week. However, she finds the scheduling and sending of emails strictly during work hours to be beneficial for herself.

Read more: Tips to reclaim your work-life balance

Giving her team time off

Because of her management philosophy, Shuster-Bier also gives importance to providing her employees some time off. Every member of her team receives 20 days’ worth of paid time off (PTO) and unlimited sick leave. She also provides them with several extra days off such as the Friday before Memorial Day.

With other forward-looking companies like Bumble and LinkedIn as inspiration, Shuster-Bier also provides her staff with extra time off during spring to keep them from getting burned out from work. In May, she also gave each member of her team an additional week off as a one-time policy. Each year, Alula typically shuts down during the final weeks of August and December to give employees extra time off.

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Topics: Life @ Work, Wellbeing

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