Cancer sucks when you are trying to run a business

I learned that my friend Abby Freethy had breast cancer from a fundraising event for her posted on Facebook. She learned she had breast cancer in February after feeling that “something was just not right.”

I asked her if she wanted to talk about the impact her illness was having on her life, her family and business.

I could hear it in her voice. She was not her usual, energetic, “get-it-done” self with a seemingly bottomless tank of energy.

“I could not move today — today is a bad day,” she said.

She talked about feeling horrible after another round of chemotherapy. From her couch, she was looking out her window at the building that houses her business, Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville, Maine.

jamFreethy started the business in 2005 when she was pregnant with her son and wanted to eat healthier. With her experience as a professional chef she started her business by creating a preservative-free ketchup.

Today, Northwoods Gourmet Girl produces more than 18 items, including relishes, jams, preserves and dessert sauces that are distributed throughout Maine. Freethy is proud to be part of a growing food movement in the state.

Last year, Freethy expanded her business by opening a retail store in Belfast. When she learned of her diagnosis, she decided not to reopen the store this year.

“We had a great deal of momentum going but after my diagnosis I didn’t know how I would manage this illness and this business. I had to scale back,” she said.

Freethy underwent surgery and is undergoing rounds of radiation and chemo that are expected to continue for the next few months.

“I just want to be done with the treatments and get on with it,” Freethy said. “I know that in the grand scheme of things this is just a short period of time — but it feels like an eternity now. I am trying to remain optimistic and I am generally in good spirits.”

When talking about how her illness has affected her business, Freethy says, “We’re not a giant company with a lot of employees, so it’s difficult. It’s going to be a long haul. We just hope people will stick by us through this.”

For Freethy, who has always been “in charge,” learning to accept help from others has been necessary as she battles her illness.

“You have to just let things go and let people take care of you,” she said.

As a single parent and business owner, Freethy is grateful for the support she has received from her community.

shirt“The support has been incredible,” she said.   Her friends have set up a gofundme page, are selling T-shirts and organized a fundraising event to be held June 20 in Greenville.

As far as the future of her business goes, Freethy says, “Cancer changes you and it will change your life and your business, too. We’re looking to the future when this is behind us and we can regroup. Northwoods Gourmet Girl may be better and stronger as a result of having gone through this.”

Deb Neuman

About Deb Neuman

Deb thinks Maine is a great place to do business and loves telling the stories of Mainers proving that it can be done! An entrepreneur at heart, she enjoys helping others with the same drive to create and innovate!