Leadership diaries: A charity CEO on leading with cancer

As part of our new series, Leadership Diaries, Jane Hatfield, CEO of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, documents a week of leading her charity whilst battling ovarian cancer.

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare is part of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It is the standard-setting organisation for family planning and sexual health physicians in the United Kingdom.

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Monday

By the time we arrive at the hospital I am in so much pain I wonder if the cancer has spread at some phenomenal pace and I am actually dying. My partner talks her way in to be with me despite the 'no visitor' rule. On the chemo ward no one pays much attention to me. Eventually a nurse notices I am near collapse and I am given liquid morphine ‘so I can talk to the doctor’.

To my great relief, the pain subsides and the doctor rules out the cancer or kidney failure. It turns out to be a reaction to a drug I have been taking to keep my white blood cell count up. I am deeply relieved and go ahead with the chemo. I wonder whether reducing my working week to four days for treatment for ovarian cancer is going to be enough.

Tuesday

After a good night’s sleep and with a boost from the steroids I take to keep side effects at bay, I start work early please that I am working from home. Being the CEO of a membership body for healthcare professionals keeps me busy – never more so than during the pandemic.

Our 15,000 members have been working hard to ensure that women continue to have access to contraception and abortion during the lockdown. Like many organisations we have found ourselves tearing up our carefully crafted plans and working hard to respond to what our members need – accurate clinical guidance, responsive answers to queries, peer support, reassurance about what they could and should be providing.

Today I have Zoom meetings that include discussing holding our AGM online, reviewing the progress of our Clinical Effectiveness Unit (‘fantastic’) and catching up with staff members and my president. I am reminded yet again how much time our members give to our work. I have never worked in a charity where the volunteers play such a pivotal role.

I finish the day listening to Michelle Mitchell, the inspirational but down to earth CEO of CRUK in a webinar for female CEOs. I am a patient rep on the CRUK strategy and research group so I am interested both personally and professionally in what she has to say. Her confession that she works 16 hours a day six days a week is a little terrifying not least because her children are the same age as mine (young).

Wednesday

I catch up with my senior management team. They are feeling overworked (to put it mildly). I feel guilty we haven’t been able to prioritise more but proud of what we have achieved over the last couple of months. We agree that it is beginning to calm down a bit.

I show them the beautiful flowers they sent me a few days before to wish me well with my chemo. We deal with the inevitable operational issues but try to leave room for the strategic questions – what are the challenges to our existing business model that Covid and lockdown have shone a light on? Can we use the impetus the situation has provided to make further changes that will see us thrive in the future? How long might it take before healthcare professionals will be able to train again? Not all the questions have answers yet.

I finish the day chairing a webinar for 850 of our members on the restoration of sexual and reproductive services as lockdown eases. I have a panel of six amazing doctors and the questions come in thick and fast – I try to ensure we answer the most common ones. The hour wizzes by. I feel tired but pleased it seemed to go well. I wonder if the steroids are wearing off. I attempt to get my children to chat about their day. I cook dinner. We all watch Glee.

Thursday

At 8am I catch up with my Action Learning Set. I set up the group not long after I started in my role and have found it a great source of support and tips. So many of the issues we face running membership bodies are similar – and quite distinct. There is a reason, a Charity Commissioner once told me, why most common law related to charities is based on the experiences of membership bodies – the governance is…complex.

I have a quick Zoom call with three of the newer members of the FSRH Council – a nurse, a GP and a consultant – nicely representing the range of healthcare professionals in our membership. They all seem pleased to be on board and are enjoying their roles but we agree that we could do more to connect them to the wider membership.

This is followed by a full meeting of our council – the first one on Zoom – 30+ people and a long agenda (albeit shortened to take into account Zoom fatigue). My president does a great job of chairing and the council members make clear how pleased they are with how the Faculty has responded to its members during Covid. I make a note to myself to feed this back to the staff asap and capture it in my weekly briefly too.

I have a debrief with my officers to reflect on how it went and discuss any issues that came up. Inevitably we stray onto what is happening clinically in sexual and reproductive health. Although it’s been another long day I always learn from these conversations. I don’t want to run an efficient organisation that is divorced from the experiences of its members. The steroids have definitely worn off and I am tired.

Friday

Finally a day with no meetings and a chance to catch up on ‘work’ including planning a session with my SMT on business planning for the future. I am always overly ambitious about how much I can do in a ‘free’ day but I get some of the urgent things off my ‘to do’ list. My kids come home from school (thank you school for re-opening) at lunchtime and I imagine a relaxed lunch with them in the garden. In reality they have had lunch and go straight to their screens. I wonder where they get that from? Then I make a mental note that I must have a conversation with my partner soon...

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Got a diary to share?

If you’re a charity leader – CEO, COO, chair, trustee or department head – and would like to document a typical work day, week, or project, please get in touch with the Charity Times editor, Lauren Weymouth at lauren.weymouth@charitytimes.com.

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