Cancer battle puts life into focus for Future50 boss
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Running a business has been a key part of Emma Bussey's life. The former Norwich City Council officer pursued a dream of running her own company ABC Abacus, a domestic and commercial cleaning and laundry firm, based at White Lodge Business Park in the city's Hall Road.
The firm's willingness to take on projects, both large and small had caught the eye of EDP Future50 judges and last October, she was successfully interviewed by one of them, Dick Palmer, from City College Norwich.
The businesswoman had also demonstrated her taste for risk after she also acquired Ninhams Traditional Cake Mixes, injecting life into a dormant Norfolk business first established in 1870.
A few hours later, and doctors gave her news that would turn her life upside down - diagnosing her with oesophagul cancer.
At her home off Ipswich Road, where she is now recuperating, she recalls that day of high emotion.
'I had my interview with Dick Palmer in the morning, then I had to have my appointment with the consultant that evening. Food kept getting stuck in my gullett. I went to my GP and told him that he had to put a camera down my throat! I went off and had it done on Thursday October 25.
They told me it was cancer there and then - it was the same time that I got confirmation that I was in the Future50.
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'From the outset, I was determined that I wasn't going to die,' she said. 'This wasn't going to kill me. I lost my dad with cancer when he was 48 and I am 45. I sing in three choirs and I kept thinking of the lines from a song, 'let music cheer me last on earth, and greet me first in heaven'.
'That's all I could think about, I couldn't get it out of my head. After the diagnosis I had to wait to see if it had spread to my bowel and ovaries - if that was the case then I was history.
'I had some more tests, including going to London to have a scan, because I couldn't wait for the mobile screening to come to Norwich and I had a call from my consultant, who confirmed it was in my oesophagus. The next song on the radio was undefeated by Def Leppard!
Music plays a large part of Emma's life, She plays the piano and guitar and started learning to play the violin before she was ill, and had to stop. A member of three choirs, Trinity Broads Singers, Global Harmony, and Scunsalata, she was able to draw strength from her fellow singers.
But her illness meant that business had to take a back step, and key to that was the trust she placed in staff to run things while she was receiving treatment.
'The business didn't even cross my mind,' she added. 'I had nine weeks of chemotherapy, and for the majority of that I was still going to work. During that time, I gathered the staff together and allocated all the stuff I used to do.
'I said to them, that I just wanted them to keep the business running. I didn't want to expand, I just wanted to keep everything on an even keel.
'I think it took the staff a while to realise that I had empowered them to make decisions, and they couldn't keep ringing me up because once I went into hospital that was it. However they weren't all on their own. But the key thing was I trusted them.
'I went into hospital on March 11 and had the operation to remove all my oesohagus and most of my stomach, it was a 12 hour operation, but there was a hiccough and I had to go back in two days later for another operation. I was in hospital for two-and-a-half weeks and lost a lot of weight, and I had a long convalescence.
'I have 20 staff and three supervisors, and the support from them was marvellous. I was just trusting my staff that everything was running as smoothly as it could. In May, I started on another course of chemo. That was the second hardest thing I have ever done - the first was losing my dad.'
Very quickly she realised that staff were able to step up to the plate and keep the business going.
'What's happening now is that the staff are still running the business, but I am gradually getting more involved. They have done a really good job keeping it going. I don't need to stick my nose in,'
In the wake of her illness, Emma admits that her priorities have changed, but as her recovery continues she is beginning to look forward.
'Small things just go over my head now,' she added. 'I get very frustrated when I hear people moaning about the most trivial things. Somebody asked me the other day how I remained so positive, and I said that I couldn't imagine my children feeling the same way I did when my dad died, so I had to get better.'
In fact, Emma's family, daughters Catherine, Eleanor, and Jessica, proved to be a vital support to Emma as she recovered.
Eleanor, 20, has taken a more active role in the business.
'Eleanor runs Ninhams now, she used to do a few hours, just making the mixes up, and I did the rest, but when I was too ill, she did everything, so I told her she had better do it.
'She also works on the cleaning side as well, and when I was ill, she really stepped up.'
Meanwhile, the birth of stepson Adam's son Alexsander on July 9 was also an emotional moment.
'When they told me they were expecting, I didn't know if I would be alive to see him born,' Emma said.
However, in August, Emma received the welcome news that there was no evidence of any disease.
Full of praise for the treatment she received from the team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, she has also embarked on a fundraising effort to buy three monitoring machines for the hospital's Gissing ward to support the work of her surgeon Ed Cheong, which has seen husband Peter embark on a 800 mile round trip from London to Edinburgh and a fundraising performance by Scunsalata. So far that has helped raise about £6,000 and on November 16, she will also be holding a charity quiz at Lakenham Community Centre to raise more funds.
'What that's done for me is in my head, I am better, but my body hasn't caught up yet,' she admitted. 'But for me it's all about getting my life back, and getting back to normal.'
Anyone interested in attending the charity quiz night should email firstname.lastname@example.org