Starting a Business Takes Grit and Determination When You Have CF

Elly Aylwin-Foster avatar

by Elly Aylwin-Foster |

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What qualities does it take to start your own business?

Grit, determination, capital, and a good idea will surely all help.

Good health is rarely included in the list of qualities needed for wannabe entrepreneurs. That’s because it’s a given. But what about those of us who cannot rely on our health to hold steady in already uncertain circumstances?

Since becoming self-employed, I’ve pondered this question often, especially as my decision to go solo was almost entirely down to health. At first, that might seem a negative outcome; I was forced to find alternative forms of work to accommodate my CF. But it is a decision I feel hugely positive about, as it has also led me to fulfilling, meaningful work I’ve enjoyed.

For such a statistically small population, there is a large number of entrepreneurs in the CF community. Before she passed away, Helen Barrett set up her own gym business in the U.K. Her family later memorialized her life’s work by creating an award to support people with CF in setting up their own businesses or exploring new career paths. Having won an award in 2017, I can testify to how important such programs are.

Laura Beattie, a fashion designer with CF, co-founded the fashion brand Careaux with her sister.

Chris Frappell, another beneficiary of a Helen Barrett award, made headlines in 2017 when he secured funding from Dragon’s Den investor Touker Suleyman for his motorcycle brand Tru-Tension.

These are just a few examples. I share them in the hope that they will inspire you, as they do me. They are stories that should be shared, but they are only half the tale.

I want to explore the challenges people with CF face when they decide to go it alone. By illuminating the hardships, I hope to show how celebratory our community’s success stories truly are. This week, I spoke to two women with CF who are in the process of setting up their own business.

Leah Sands is a full-time IT professional and fledgling business owner. She offers application support for large hospitals and runs a business alongside, providing IT support for homes and small businesses. She also started the Facebook group “Professionals & Working Adults with Cystic Fibrosis.

Leah has wanted to start her own business since completing an MBA in 2010. She says, “This year, I finally took the jump and started something. Unfortunately, I’m a little restricted due to having to keep my full-time job for health insurance, so my personal business is not able to take off like I want it to. I’m juggling both jobs along with my own family.”

As someone who hails from the tea-worshipping side of the Atlantic (Great Britain), it’s a challenge I hadn’t fully appreciated. The National Health Service is not without its flaws, but it has allowed me to explore self-employment without loss of medical coverage.

Wendy Caroline, a fellow columnist for Cystic Fibrosis News Today, had similar concerns when she shared plans to strike out on her own. She holds a job as a restaurant manager while working on the early stages of a music consultancy business. She says, “I’m not moving full-speed ahead, because I’m trying to stay at my full-time job as long as I can. I’m laying the groundwork so that the business is ready for me once I’m ready for it.”

It’s clear that walking the tightrope of staying well and maintaining insurance — balancing aspirations as a business owner all the while — is an obstacle in its own right.

Wendy says, “When anyone chooses to be self-employed, they risk the loss of financial stability, company insurance, and the emotional support of working for an established company. Once CF, or any other terminal illness, is thrown into mix, the stakes become as life-threatening as the disease itself.”

So what’s the answer?

Both Wendy and Leah have taken a come-what-may approach. Wendy also praises the powers of “creative time management.” She uses her “free” time to plan the business: “I work on it while driving (consulting peers for advice) and my treatment (actually putting things together).” In addition, she works 30 to 40 hours per week at another job, hosts a two-hour radio show, and writes her column.

Leah acknowledges that, in the end, she may have to give up her business if it becomes too big a threat to her health coverage. “But it’s hard to give up on your dream, so I know I will push myself to my limits and do the best I can. I think as long as I know I did my best, I can be content with that.”

Of one thing I am convinced: When it comes to grit and determination, our community has it covered.

To stay up to date with my writing and contribute to my book on life with chronic illness, visit


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Kerry Thompson avatar

Kerry Thompson

My son Kit a CF and Bilateral Lung Transplant patient has his own business. Please take a look at one of the most determined and Nobel Men that I know.

Elly Aylwin-Foster avatar

Elly Aylwin-Foster

This is awesome Kerry, thanks so much for sharing noble men jewellery!


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