me. I had rehearsed my script 100
times: “Thousands of women get
breast cancer. Women survive and
thrive when they have cancer. My
prognosis is not terminal. I hope I’ve
shown you I’m resilient. I hope you
believe I can stay in my seat.” My
whole experience has been that the
minute someone is weak, they’re
kicked when they’re down, and
discarded. I was worried the board
would want to replace me.
Thomas Lynch is a proper man. Quite
diplomatic. He let me go into my
speech, and he reached out his hand
over mine, and he said, “Saundra, if
there is anybody who can beat cancer,
it is you.”
Then he said we needed to call the
lawyers right away, because we’re a
public company. Because my prognosis was not terminal, they said the
cancer was private information.
Material, but private. They said that
unless my prognosis changed, I
wouldn’t have to disclose it. Ever.
The lawyers suggested I contact our
shareholders after my third or fourth
chemo session. That way, shareholders
could see that I had been leading for
four or five months while I was undergoing treatment, and the company
was operating without a blip.
I was nervous about telling them. I
was so prepared to hear, “What about
my investment?” I had a script preparing me for all these things. I was so
grateful that every shareholder said,
in their own way, what matters most
is your health, period. After I spoke
to all the investors, I ripped up the
script. That was a good day.
I did chemo every 21 days. Ellen
would show up an hour after chemo
started. We would work. I’d dictate
to her. We would do conference calls.
Before every call, I would tell myself,
“OK, you can do anything for an hour.
You can shake it o;.” I would get
chemo on a Thursday, and then be o;
the grid for two days. Monday, I would
start calls again. I had investor calls at
6 a.m. They didn’t know I was sick.
I couldn’t travel because of the risk
of infection. The team decided to go
to every conference anyway. Russ
Barrans, the chief commercial o;cer,
would do the presentations. The chief
financial o;cer would also go. Delegating the conference responsibility
was the hardest thing—for the first
time, I had to get comfortable asking
Everyone indulged me. Every time,
before Russ would do a presentation,
he and I would talk. I even asked him
to send me a picture of what he was
wearing before he went onstage. He
was unbelievably gracious and cooperative. He would definitely have hung
up on me if I hadn’t been in treatment.
In his presentation, Russ can’t talk
about what it’s like to take contra-
ception, as I do. But he could tell a
story about his daughter. A lot of our
audience are male investors, and he
brought something to the table that I
couldn’t. When I heard Russ tell that
story, I realized he really can—and
should—do this as my proxy. Now
we have decided that it’s probably
smarter for the company that we
divide and conquer. I’m not sure I
could have been convinced of that
without the diagnosis.
The saddest thing was that I would
go to chemo, and other women would
have to end chemo early to get back
on the bus because they had three kids
to feed. Or they couldn’t miss work.
I met a waitress who was supposed to
be doing heavy-duty chemo every 21
days. Instead, she was coming once a
week and getting a much smaller dose.
Her cancer might still grow, but that
was the only way she could keep her
job. I’m still not over that.
At the company, I have changed my
operational practices. Now I know my
team has a handle on things. I don’t
have to participate in everything. I can
get an update in the executive team
meeting. I have a lot more time to
think strategically about the company,
and about partnerships.
I send people notes all the time,
saying, “I saw this and it made me
think of you.” Even shareholders.
Before cancer, I wouldn’t do that.
I’d think the recipient would be like,
“What do you want? You’re not my
pen pal. Swim in your own lane!”
Now, I don’t care. I have definitely
loosened up. I just do what I want,
pretty much all the time. Above all, I
feel grateful that I had great care, and
access to support and treatment that
not everybody has.
And now I’m on the other side.
“We have decided that it’s smarter for the company that we divide and conquer. I’m not sure I could have been convinced of that without the diagnosis.”
A CLEAR SOLU TION
Evofem’s contraceptive gel, which was
going through crucial clinical trials while
Pelletier battled cancer.
How I Did It