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Female Leaders: Katie Ruane

Katie Ruane doesn’t do anything the ‘normal’ way, from her diagnosis of ‘old man’s cancer’ when she was 22, to training as a Naturopath as a mature student. Katie’s drive is to do the best she can each day. Life is too short not to be, so having a career in something that she loves is so important; and she does. Katie is a daughter, sister, friend, auntie, Naturopath and charity trustee first and foremost. If Katie can have a positive impact on someone whether it’s helping them with their health so they feel better, by being part of an NHS cancer focus group to make someone else’s diagnosis and treatment better, or by looking after her niece’s, then that’s a life worth living.

You were diagnosed with cancer aged 22, but you haven’t let it define or stop you. You’ve set up a business, completed two degrees and even ran the London Half Marathon and Great North Run twice. Where do you get your motivation and drive from?

In my third year at university, aged 22, I was diagnosed with a rare cancer: Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. It’s rare because I am young and female, and most people diagnosed with it are male and between 40 – 60 years old.

This type of cancer was first diagnosed in the 1950s, so they’ve been able to treat it at a genetic level for a long time. Because of this, I was told I was ‘lucky’ - I wouldn’t die, I could take these pills and my life would be better than ever – and so it set my mindset as positive. I was diagnosed at such a formative time and I didn’t let it define me because at that point I didn’t know who I was going to be without cancer anyway! So of course, I carried on.

I am also the product of two very driven parents and my siblings are very motivated too. I’m incredibly competitive, but only with myself, so I’m constantly trying to outdo myself!

Is your willingness to try new things an inherent trait?

Yes: I always think ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ I have a different approach to life to most of my peers. Life is short and you only have one go, so why not try? I just get out of bed and try to do the best I can. I’ve always been a glass half full kind of person!

You moved to London to start your career. Did you always have clear professional goals?

When I moved to London, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. My first job was as a Personal Assistant, which didn’t really work out for me. So, I thought long and hard about what I really cared about, what I was passionate about and decided I would go back to University. I spent 4 years studying science and became a Naturopath.

Where did your passion for Naturopathy begin?

I worked out what mattered to me and what I cared about. I knew I liked helping people and I love food. And what you eat has a huge impact on your health. I know we won’t fix everything with food, but medicine is finally acknowledging that it does help.

Naturopathy ticked all the boxes - it’s a mix of nutrition and other therapies. I chose this career path because I knew I didn’t want to be miserable at work with a job I didn’t care about. I knew I had to do something I was passionate about.

You are also a trustee of Cancer On Board. Why was Cancer On Board set up and how did you get involved?

You would never know anything is wrong with me based on appearances alone, because I look quite ‘normal’. So when I’m travelling on a train or tube in between appointments and meetings, I am never offered a seat. On most days I can’t stand up for more than 45 minutes so I need to sit down to rest, reboot and recharge. However, I’d never feel comfortable asking people to stand up as I have no physical proof of my illness – especially as I still have all my hair!

I used to vent about this issue on Twitter (as most people do!) and someone reached out to me and told me about Cancer On Board. I met with the founder and knew that I wanted to get involved, so we turned it into a charity with me as a trustee!

My role is mostly networking and I love it. We’ve given out about 1000 badges in the last five months and not just in the UK – in the United States, Ireland, all over.

Asking for Help is a key theme for the women in The Female Lead book. How have you gained strength from families, friends or mentors?

Most of my strength has come from my core set of friends and family who have been with me through everything that I’ve been through. They have all been so supportive. My sister is amazing and her principles are incredible.

James McNaught, founder of Cancer On Board, is phenomenal and has been through so much.

I try to surround myself with positive people and those who always try to achieve the best they can. I am incredibly lucky with the family and friends I have.

How have the obstacles you've faced defined who you are today?'

I probably push myself too much because of the obstacles I have faced, but that keeps me going. People can’t quite believe how willing I am to try new things. I mean why wouldn’t I? I almost feel I have a point to prove to the world: I want to show people that I can do it.

What advice would you give to any girls and young women?

I know it’s so difficult to put this advice into action, but try not to worry. Don’t compare yourself and your life stages and achievements to others, especially regarding social media. Everyone uses it to portray their ‘perfect life’ and it’s all a lie. People are too scared to admit when things have gone wrong.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is you and your happiness. Be true to yourself. As long as it’s legal and not stupid, do what you can do to find your happy and hang onto it.

What’s next for you?

In terms of my health, it’s hoping that the new drug I’m on works and doesn’t have chronic fatigue as a side effect. I am 3 weeks in and so far so good!

With Cancer On Board, it’s to continue to raise awareness and the end goal is that every person who gets diagnosed with cancer in the UK, will be given a badge at diagnosis to have (if they want it).

In terms of my business, I want to be busier and have more clients. I would like to have regular workshops to teach people how to look after their, and their families health from baby and beyond in a natural way. If my energy levels continue to be good, I’m going to train as a midwife so I can purely focus on mother and baby with that and my Naturopathic skill set.

To keep up with Katie's work, follow her on twitter

For more information on Cancer On Board, visit their website

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