July 13, 2021

1. Avril Chester

1. Avril Chester

Avril Chester, Founder & CEO of Cancer Central talks to Danny Attias in this episode of the Sondership podcast. Hear about her sonder moment, how she overcame a series of challenges including cancer and came out the other side thriving and as determined as ever to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Be sure to listen to the very end for bonus content.

Avril is an award-winning technology entrepreneur, executive, speaker, author and cancer thriver. Featured in Computer Weekly's most influential women in UK IT 2020 long list, Avril won Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2019 Women in IT Awards, is Founder & CEO of Cancer Central, Chief Technology Officer at Royal Institute of British Architects, one of the 3 Digital Amigos (podcast series), author of 'Be with me, it’s c' and ‘Taking That Leap of Faith’. She loves good food, big dreams and a giggle.

 Follow Avril on
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/avrilchester
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/memyselfandave

Find out more about Cancer Central: https://www.cancercentral.org.uk/

A transcription of each episode as well as guest profiles and much more is available on our website www.sondership.com

 Credits

Title music - Buddha by Kontekst https://soundcloud.com/kontekstmusic
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Transcript
Danny:

Welcome to the first episode the Sondership podcast.

Avril:

I'm really honoured, I didn't realise I would be first.

Danny:

And neither did did until I just said that.

Avril:

The pressure, the pressure.

Danny:

I would like to welcome Avril Chester to the first ever edition of the Sondership podcast. Avril is the founder and CEO of Cancer Central. She is an award-winning technology, entrepreneur, executive, speaker, author, and cancer thriver, we'll find out more about that later. Featured in Computer Weekly's most influential women in UK IT 2020. Avril won the Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2019 Women in IT awards, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was there in the audience and going, what's Avril doing on stage, oh, it's Avril, she'll be winning an award. Yeah, I get that, that makes sense. Avril is the founder and CEO of Cancer Central, a Chief Technology Officer at the Royal Institute of British Architects and one of the Three Digital Amigos, which is a podcast series. So I'm expecting perfection on this one Avril. Avril is also the author of "Be with me, it's C" and "Taking that leap of faith". She loves good food, big dreams and a giggle. And I'm pretty sure you're going to hear her giggle a few times during this episode of the Sondership podcast. So welcome aboard Avril, as you know, the Sondership podcast is an opportunity for our listeners to hear inspiring stories from people, with purpose. And that's you today, you are our first person with purpose.

Avril:

Goodness. Thank you.

Danny:

Just to remind people sonder is that realisation that every random passer-by has got a story as vivid and complex as your own. That everyone out there has got something going on so much more below the surface that we ever get to see, we ever get to understand. So sonder is that moment where you realise that it's not just about your story, but everyone has got their story going on around them. So Avril what's your first or most impactful recollection of sonder?

Avril:

I love that word. I mean, I didn't even know existed until your fantastic podcast and, and you really got me thinking, well, what is my first? I think I'm going to go back quite a long way actually to, um, must have been sort of, junior school, and I don't know exactly the age. But I have a wonderful brother who I adore and love and he is autistic with special needs. and, um, we, we went to a little kind of day club together, you know, in, in, in the school holidays. and the volunteers there, sort of said to me, would, you know, would you like to support with this activity? Would you like to volunteer? And I thought, oh my goodness, how grown up am I?

Danny:

How, how old would you been Avril?

Avril:

This was definitely before I was 10. So I was probably about eight or nine or something like that. So I was feeling like, oh yeah, I'm with the adults now. Oh yeah, I'm down. You know, this is good. I, you know, I've been asked to do this, and of course you don't tweak at the time, cause obviously this is, a really wonderful place for carers and children with special needs, and I was asked to help and I just sort of stopped. And as I was meeting, obviously wonderful people with different abilities and I was learning about, different special needs, sort of everything from, deafness through to being wheelchair bound, to actually sort of bouncing and, and those that don't understand, distance and, you know, they rock quite close to you and, you know, and all the kind of different sort of, um, pieces. I just sort of started to realise that each one of us is so different and every single one of the families that are here as part of this little summer program have a different home life experience. So how our home life experiences with, with my brother is very different to other people it's not like, you know, not the same. And I would say it's the first time I sort of thought. Wow. Okay, so how does that work? And what does that look like? And then of course, I got distracted because I think the ice creams came out. So there was probably literally there's the sum total of my small awareness and to be honest with you, Danny, I probably haven't really thought about it. You carry on with your little life, don't you, you meet new friends and you, you grow up and, you know, and I, I didn't think about it again, um, until, um, until my, you know, so I went through the serious illness and, uh, just, just to kind of share, Right. I I'm, I'd like to think I'm done on this kind of stuff. I've noticed a small pattern in my life. So when I was eight weeks old, I had a hernia, um, in my teens. I accidentally sliced off the whole of my heel. In my twenties. I fractured my spine in my thirties. I had cancer. So now I'm in my forties right I've decided that I've had enough and I'm really done on serious incidents right, and accidents and things happening to me. And it is something major. I'm not going to pretend um, you know, it naturally came to me. It is something dramatic that happens to you that really starts to think about your own humanity and what your life's about and what is my purpose.

Danny:

Thank you, Avril. You have certainly had your share of knocks and bruises is that that's not quite, that's not quite.

Avril:

I know. So I was just like, come on

Danny:

I think you're done. You've had your fill. Um, no more the shop, the shop is now closed. And, that, I mean, that's a really, young age to have that spark of awareness. And the thing about sonder. Which is not in the dictionary, but we'll get it there. The thing about sonder it's about planting that seed of empathy. It's about growing into the, into the shoots and into a tree where, well, we'll hear your story, but, but realising there are others and they've got good and bad things going on. So, what drew you to the point where you wanted to do things that were going to impact other people's lives positively, but these are people that you don't know and you'll never meet. What was that trigger?

Avril:

That trigger for me was, going through treatment for cancer that I would, I mean, I'd love to say, oh, it was before, um, And of course, all of us like to think we've got, empathy about us and, and we're not, selfish and all those kinds of good things, but, proactively doing something of which you really want to support people you've never, ever, ever, ever met and you never will meet. Was it through, and that's a really good question Danny I'm even thinking it was post active treatment, because if I, if I think about my active treatment and, you know, the usual sort of cycle and, and, and again, I was, I was incredibly lucky because from my first, well, from the lump through to actual diagnosis was nearly six months. I, I it's been through all the scans. I'd even been through my first operation before I was diagnosed. You know, that it was only because the, the, the medical team kept pursuing. I'm not happy with, it's not happy, but it's not happy with this. That I even got diagnosed. I think. Thank goodness and thank, thank you. Eastbourne District General Hospital I my life. Fast-forward when you, when you go through the horrors of chemo. Some of you may be aware that I'd from a personal life. Um, I had literally just been through a divorce. Uh, it's best two years, my entire life. Um, my marriage broke down. I I've gone through a divorce. I okay. Well, you have to, you have to, literally, within months of each other, divorce came through the next month I got diagnosed with cancer. I mean, it literally was like a horror show. I think I got bitten by a dog in the middle of all of this. Um, and my, honestly, I remember meeting up with two of my colleagues and they're like, can anything else happen to you? And I said, what have you done? So the world we talk I mean I don't know. So Yeah. So, fast forward to that sort of sorry, that chemo stage. So I have to laugh about it. Otherwise it's kind of, uh, at least it's a fast forward to that chemo stage. Um, I was at home because obviously my mum and dad went you are not living by yourself where you are coming back home, and I'm very fortunate, we have such a close relationship. I'm very lucky. So I've moved back home in my sort of tender age of 37. You think what on earth has happened with my life? Um, who am I? Living back at my parents. It was a vivid memory, this one's very, very, very vivid. I remember lying there because you can't, it's indescribable. Yeah. Th th the how you feel and, and, and the sicknesses is indescribable and, you know, mama popped in, in the morning, you know, to come in with the tablets and what were you don't realise is, you know, uh, and we did laugh when we had my first chemo. You literally come home with a bucket of goodies, you know, have injections to do yourself. You have different tablets to start at different times. You know, this one's after the day three, this, I mean, it's so confusing. Um, so we have our little table mum came in with it, with the tablets and I could see the pain and it was the most horrific, horrific thing because you're looking at her eyes and there's nothing, absolutely nothing. I can say absolutely nothing and I'm staring at her eyes and I could see she was trying to keep cheerful. Um, there was this really vivid moment where I..., Out of nowhere, my gut basically said to me, you're meant to go through this for a reason. And I remember I opened my can't believe I actually said, this there's me kind of like zonked out from chemo, trying to convince my mother, it's okay. I know I'm meant to go through this for a reason. I can't tell you why right now. Cause I don't know and I don't understand, but somehow I know I meant to do this and it was clear as day. I cannot explain it. I cannot, it was clear as day. So whilst that wasn't a sonder moment, that was a leading up to it kind of. I'm doing this because I'm supposed to realise something and I'm supposed to have a, there's something out of this that I don't realise right now.

Danny:

That's really interesting. And it's, it's kind of pulling together your innate empathetic, ability and taking something that's happening to you. One of the worst things that can happen to you and turning it around and saying, no, this okay. I can use this. How can I, how can I turn this pretty bad thing into something pretty good? It's really fascinating. I suspect, uh, I'm not a religious person, but I suspect this is, this is the moment of faith that some people find when they go through a life-threatening disease or, or illness. And, uh, it must be so hard as well. For your parents, you know, for your mother, it's not any, anything that a parent wants to go through, you think, right? They've gotten through school, they're off, they're living their own lives. I'm done being a parent. Now I can go and enjoy my life. Oh, hold on, they're back. I've got a sick child again.

Avril:

They'd given me strict instructions. Could you please stop? You know, it's yeah, it is. And, and, um, and I'm, I'm very, I'm very happy to share, obviously faith is a personal thing, but I, but I believe in God and it. was that, I know I'm doing this for a reason. I, they, you know, and, and, and things it's part of the learning experience, and, just to take this sort of the step forward to, cause you have to laugh about, this wonderful two years of my entire life, you pop out the other side. So we have to sorry, listeners. I hope you're not drinking tea, but you still gonna pop out the other side, in this kind of, what the hell is, life about you, generally speaking because of the drugs I had and the different things. Um, I was heavier, obviously I'd put on a lot of weight. So, there I was, I'd put on a lot of weight. I had one boob and I was bald and woo-hoo scene bring it on.

Danny:

Or you're selling it.

Avril:

Exactly, and it is that, whole refinding of yourself afterwards, do you know what your body shape the emotional, mental, piece that you go through? I mean, it's well documented that a lot of people, hit an all time low, when they finish the active treatment, because then they mentally stop and go, thank goodness. I've done the fight now. And then they go, what on earth was that about? Um, I mean, I was the opposite. I had my very low point during chemo. So by the time I came out, you couldn't stop me. I was, I was off.

Danny:

yeah, that's really interesting. I mean, I can't relate to it of course, but, but what I'm hearing is that, you spend all your time focusing on surviving and then you get to that survival point and then you go, well, now what now, what I'm, I'm I'm held back. You might look different, your, your experience is different. You might have been out of work for a period of time, and now you've got the rest of your life to get on with. And, and what prepares you for that? So, Avril, what was the gap between, your, diagnosis and starting up the, the nugget of Cancer Central.

Avril:

Ooh, good question. So the, well, the, the official, and you know what, I'm not good at dates, but funny enough, this one, I know like it's ingrained in me. So the official diagnosis with the 1st of December, 2015, I finished active treatment just after my birthday,, in May, 2016. And then, um, I started, I, I didn't take up new contracts. I took declared on LinkedIn on the January, 2018. This is it. I'm going to create my own startup called Cancer Central. And by doing that, you see, I couldn't escape cause I declared it. Um, and then everyone was so great. And there was a pathetic little holding page with the word Cancer Central, and then I was it.

Danny:

Under construction.

Avril:

Yeah, Yeah. Yeah. literally, it was around that time. So, but in between that whole kind of timing with me going back to work and I was working at Scope at the time. Um, I sort of went on a contract there and it was really interesting because, um, the concept really came from my experience, if I may just very quickly just so kind of explain the two things that I sort of talk about. Obviously, you know, I, I was going to lose my hair, blah, blah, blah. And, um, I was off work. Um, And, uh, I know I can buy a soft fluffy hat from the internet. I absolutely do, but you know what, because I'm off work. Let's do lunch. Can I find a shop? Try on some hats. Let's do something. Do I like the one with the little things or the little flower that's going? I don't know. This have some fun. So I thought, I know I will go to a very famous search engine and I will look up chemo hats in my area, and obviously this was some time ago and, you know, in 2016 and after two hours, my mum that was literally prizing me away computer, like stop it, and I was like, but I will find it. And I could not find one. And I was like the, a technologist, right? I'd like to think I can search what's wrong with me, and really what was happening was all this amazing results were coming back from the States. Even though I was being really clear, you know, I was going Eastbourne, UK. I was going really, really detailed by that stage. Um, but always wonderful stuff came back from the States and great love the States. Sorry, not gonna visit you right now. I'm only going to go up the road. Uh, so you know, I thought that was a bit weird. Why can't I put pin in a map, but just that particular thing and, and, and find it. So I thought very odd, but you don't think anything about it, do you? Cause you're going to do, you know, And then other people, an, a number of you sort of recognize this is when you go through something like this, you meet people per chance because you so happened to be in that waiting room at the same time. And if you struck up a conversation and if you say that comment, ifs, ifs, ifs, ifs, ifs you tend to find nuggets of wonderful information. The one example I give, is of a incredible charity called the Willow Foundation. And I really do hope they're surviving post lockdown. Cause obviously it's all, the charity sector has taken a hit with donations and what I wouldn't have done was put into the famous search engine, "diagnosed with cancer under age of 40 nice day out". Well, what, what on earth is that about? I mean, I didn't even know the concept of special days. It's like a new language when you get diagnosed you know, you get this new language and what they do, it's between certain ages, where they can and where they've got the funds they award special days out that you have with your family, you can have a memory. I mean, isn't that. Just wonderful. And we had this gift and we went to the theater and we had laughs and we had little lunch afterwards, which was lovely. And then we came back home on the train and I will forever remember that day thanks to them. Um, but I only found that out three days before I didn't qualify.

Danny:

Right.

Avril:

And yeah it's kind of cause my friend, my new friend, so happened to tell me, cause to find out and this is the thing I went well, hang on a minute. I didn't know the search terms. I don't, you know, and, and really that was the kick starting moment, it's like, well, hang on a minute, it's all this great stuff out there. There's these amazing, you know, it might only be a local initiative between, people and neighbors, that have created a little Facebook group to help with daily radiotherapy sessions and traveling to and from, it might be a bit bigger in terms of insurance products. It might be, books and nutrition advice there. it's there a lot of it's local. Um, unless you go to that notice board with a little pin in it, and someone's been there to put their latest information there. I thought there must be a better way. So when I, when I started at Scope, I sort of thinking, gosh, I feel very blessed. This is a time to, to ask, I was attending, senior technology events. I was in now the not for profit center. So I started asking, hello, is there anything out there, can I help, uh, you know, when you get tumbleweed. And oh,I was thinking okay. Um, and it was from that moment that that's when I couldn't help someone else or something, you know, I couldn't see anything. I went, that's it, I'm going to do it myself. I have no idea how I'm going to do this. I have absolutely no money. Obviously. I've been off work for a year with being treated with cancer earning no money. I'm really skint but. I really believe in it, and again, that whole gut feeling came back up that whole gut feeling of, I did not want to have my life saying what if, what if I had, you know, if I tried and I needed to do it initially for myself, but actually the drive was the sonder moment. There's all this amazing stuff out there. How do we connect people to it?

Danny:

Amazing and, boil it down for us. What is Cancer Central?

Avril:

Well, it's taken two and a half years and some brilliant. people to actually define it for me. My new strap line, uh, is, helping people affected by cancer to find the support and information they need.

Danny:

Brilliant, clear.

Avril:

I know genius aren't they, you know, this is this, you need other people to help you create that. So it's taken me two and a half to explain it.

Danny:

Well you knew in your gut exactly what it was, but it's the articulation of that. And being able to explain it in less than five minutes, that's the hard part and you're absolutely right. Getting, people outside of you, listening to it and going, so what you're saying is this, I like that that's really, that's really clear.

Avril:

And Danny, I hope you don't mind me saying, I've just realised I can you know lockdown's totally thrown my dates it's three and a half years, not two and a half. What am about where's this time gone?

Danny:

So Avril, tell us about the journey. So you, came up with this concept, you realise that there was a gap in the market effectively. If we talk about it from a business perspective. Assuming you didn't have bucket loads of cash. How did you go about creating something?

Avril:

Sometimes I wonder how, one of the very early realisations I had, which sort of relates back to why I was doing it was. It's too many people have been affected by cancer and this should never, ever be based on my journey. I really wanted to give people the opportunity to play a part, whether it was an idea, whether it was half a day, whether it's being part of a project team for a certain period of time, whether it's a policy, whether it's design thing, you know, I really, really wanted people to help create this community style, to the point, Danny, where you're determined to get it in the dictionary around going for Wikipedia on my one is called cominovation, which is a community plus innovation. I had, obviously I had nothing. So I ran a hackathon and I'm so scared the day before it's like, you're creating this party. Will anyone turn up. I had no idea. This was just my concept, my little idea just little me asking for a little help to try and understand how this thing would work. Just for starters. Once I've got the vision, I had no idea.

Danny:

So you've just used a very technical term there hackathon. What is a hackathon?

Avril:

Oh, sorry. Sorry, there's a, probably a very polished answer for this, but in my little term, it's, uh, groups of incredibly wonderful people coming together that look to solve a very specific problem, whether it's designing or, or delivering it, it'll show of technology at the end of it or concept, that then can be taken forward. And by doing that. You have lots of different groups of lots of different ideas, and then it enables you to pick the best I, you know, or the group that the best ideas to take forward, which we did in our case,

Danny:

Brilliant. Now we know what a hackathon is.

Avril:

Normally there's a winner and things, but I needed a group response.

Danny:

Where did you find these people? Was this through your newly found chemo network? Is this from your technology network? You have an extensive network, you've won lots of awards. You're a well-known figure, certainly in technology circles. So how did you go about pulling this network of people together?

Avril:

Well, this was obviously all pre awards, and I was still working. I was working with some incredible companies, and people and I just asked for help. I said, can, can you, can you help spread the word? Can you, can you ask your community, could you do this? Or could you help me this? And I haven't got a room. Um, has anyone got a room I can, I use, in the middle of London I've got no money to pay for it. So, I mean, begging. Um, but I explained what I wanted to do and I generally don't know somehow they, somehow we got given this in this room, that massive hackathons take place for us to use. We had, food, donated and drink donated. We had people turn up. We had, mentors that wanted to help shape the teams we had. people who've been. affected by cancer as part of the group to talk to the technology people to explain the experience we had, I mean, it was, I just can't explain it. I was, I nearly cried when I saw everyone turn up, I was a ridiculous emotional person.

Danny:

That must have been very uplifting because it probably one of the first moments where you realise that this concept resonated with people and that people are going to come to it. People are going to flock to it and recognise that this was something worth doing.

Avril:

Yeah. Yeah. And everybody who took part in helping get that day there in helping to organise to just keep me uplifted on the one on the way there. thank you so very much, everyone that turned up, everyone that gave the ideas, all the companies that invested their time, and I do list them in my book.

Danny:

Remind us of the title of this book

Avril:

Uh, at The title of this book is 'Taking that leap of faith", um, and this particular chapter is called the Heffalump.

Danny:

The Heffalump, I love that.

Avril:

Because my Mum couldn't say hackathon, she kept saying, how has the Heffalump going along?

Danny:

Okay.

Avril:

So we had to be cool with the Heffalump. And it was, it was a very emotional moment because an idea in your head doesn't mean it will necessarily work. and you know, declaring that you're going to go do something and having a room full of people come up with all these incredible concepts. And actually from there, from this came, the notion that we needed to build a conversational search, because obviously at that time, Alexa, Siri and things were quite new. and of course you need to start building these things up. And the conversational search is much more like I'm going into chemo. What do I need? You know, how do I, what are the symptoms for this it's this is actually the, the advancements of the technology. So we, this is where Ask Ave was born.

Danny:

Right, so what is Ask Ave?

Avril:

My board have a lot to answer for. My board at the time wanted to name this conversational search. Cause it's much nicer when you, you know, you have that virtual assistant, that's called something after me.

Danny:

So is this a, is this a chatbot when you say conversational search.

Avril:

chatbot indeed, but it's front and center part of the site, not a pop-up that happens as, and when you need it, it is literally front and centre.

Danny:

That's quite unique.

Avril:

Hm. Well, I wanted, oh, I, I know at the time I was going out, can we do different designs? Can we do this? I can only do so much with, through you and I had incredible, amazing, amazing companies. Um, you know, the data company and Roq and everyone who stepped forward to build my first prototype as their CSR. Uh, and, and I was like, can we do this design? I was like, okay, Avril uh, tone it Um, but yes, it is very much front and center. This is very much about that person centric, design. And while we're not necessarily, um, you know, we're still growing, we're still being built through that incredible pro bono. I mean, we've reached now and amazing 55,000 donated hours. It's incredible and on our site you'll see the companies involved, the people involved. I want it like that, you know, that film roll call, you

Danny:

Yeah.

Avril:

in the different stages.

Danny:

55,000 hours

Avril:

55,000 donated hours. Um, but it is about that person centric, design, and there's some features coming out soon, um, that will help emphasise that and do that and bless her ask Ave has been in diapers for bless her, but it's about learning what people are asking for. So then we can respond to them. We can get the, the better content and, um, oh, going back to the board, so here they wanted to me, I went on your bike. I'm not talking yourself. So that's where my nickname came up and my nickname's always been Ave, ta-dah. And everyone goes, but there's an e on the end. It's like, Yeah, it's like avenue.

Danny:

I think you have me, myself and Ave haven't you as one of your social handles. But you, if you don't know it's Ave it reads as me, myself, and Dave, but then you realise there's only one D and not two

Avril:

I love it, and also. So you can see how far back this goes, my dad was so proud with this my 30th birthday, he wanted to give me something really memorable and he bought me a number plate and it's, it's, it's on my car. It's M 1 5 5 A V E, Miss Ave

Danny:

Miss Ave

Avril:

See, you know, it's Ave's been there throughout my life.

Danny:

So So this chatbot can drive.

Avril:

Yeah,

Danny:

Brilliant Avril, thank you. So what I'm hearing and the thing is, what I'm seeing is we've got Avril, the award-winner, uh, glitter, on stage, trophies, entrepreneur, creating things she's unstoppable, but actually I'm guessing it wasn't quite as easy, and I use that, term very carefully. I'm guessing it wasn't as easy as it might appear from the outside. And when I'm sitting at in a black tie a table at the Grosvenor and you jump up on stage, accept the prize for Entrepreneur of the Year, Women in IT Awards 2019. I think, yeah, that's that's Avril so for people who haven't met Avril, you might've got it from hearing her now, but her personality is infectious. Her energy is infectious. She, she's on radio, so you can't see her blushing, but, she is, one of my role models. And in fact, creating this podcast has been partly inspired by Avril and her story and just her raw determination to make something happen. So Avril, tell us about how incredibly easy this whole journey was, how it all fell into place, and you had a plan and you knew what you were doing and ta-dah. You're now an award-winning, entrepreneur, founder of this incredible platform.

Avril:

I don't quite know what to say to that, Danny. I am very blushing and bless you. I'm totally inspired by you constantly and everything you're doing in Anthony Nolan, and beyond, and yeah. Yeah, I love the word you use easy. I don't think I've cried so much in my entire life than I have done during this journey, and people say to you, when you start up your own business or start up your own venture, it's the most toughest thing that probably you're going to do. and you go, yeah, of course. Yeah. I'll be fine, and I'll tell you what, being that naive is one of the best things you can ever be. Cause I don't think if he ever knew the emotional turmoil you put yourself through. I don't know if you'd ever do it. I literally don't know if I'd have done it, and even, even now there's so much. I would adore the site to do. I can see, I mean, and even the team around me, they, they, they can see it. And it's only the spare time we've got in evenings and weekends to develop and tweak and do, and there's so much we desperately would love to build and develop and help. And we we'd love to expand it, this concept of centralising information to you. Um, say if you search in internet, what is it you're looking for? And we'll bring whether it's a story, whether it's an event, whether it's a product or a service, whether, you know, it was NHS information. If it's, you know, helpline, whatever it is, we'll bring it to you that it applies to so many health conditions. So, um, one day, one day. Okay. Um, but, um, I really don't want people listing, you know, it's so easy to get lost in. Oh my gosh, she's won an award or my gosh, there's an honestly, I couldn't believe when it actually happens. Um, because there were so many dark days and I will share a story. And I, this was, this was the year I want to in the January, I'd won the award. I was absolutely on a high couldn't believe it. This was amazing, and then how do I keep the site going? How do I make a self-sustainable business? Um, how do I create income from the site? So I can actually maybe want they hire someone, that's the dream. Um,

Danny:

Still, you still don't have anyone hired,

Avril:

oh, we still don't have

Danny:

paid a day's

Avril:

it all. I know, we're still not there. Um, how do we make it? Self-sustainable I am literally onto business case number 76, um, and I've had different people help and look at different ideas, and we've now, I mean, I feel so posh. I now have a proper strategy agree with the board and we have some set focus for me to in the small time we've got with the people who are dedicating their time to help do this. Where do we focus that time to build that? So, you know, we've had to really focus. I was personally, literally, really you running out of have money? You know, I have been, as I said, I'd been off work with the cancer treatment are, you know, I, I wasn't earning, um, I was doing this and I was thinking that I, I could carry on, I don't know how I'm going to pay my mortgage. I don't know how I'm going to, you know, it's, it's literally trying to do odd little bits of consultancy here and there. And it was just literally money in money, out money in money, money, money out. And I was like, do I start selling something? You know, do I do?

Danny:

Did you get to pawning your earrings, for example. That would get me some more green on the top of the

Avril:

Okay. You know, and I say, no, I refuse to go through the advertising route. I refuse because it's not what I wanted for the site. When you've been diagnosed, when you're going through something, you are in a different emotional stages during that process and how having flashing advertising things is not what you need at this point of time. So I needed to find a way, um, Yeah. I was crying and I, there was, it was the month. Uh, it was a Monday and that's why I sorta remember it was a Monday. And I was sitting, I was sitting in my bed under my duvet feeling really sorry for myself. And I had literally gone through half a tissue box. Um, and, uh, all the, all my loved ones that, you know, giving me the, pick me up message. We love you. We believe in you. And I felt awful because all this people, all up to date, I mean, I think we were at least at that point up to 20 or 30,000 donated hours and companies that invested their time, people invested their time. They believed in me and I couldn't get it off the ground. I just, I felt I was failing them.

Danny:

So this is before you launched?

Avril:

This is, well, this is, we'd launched. Growing a site getting, I don't have a PR budget to get it out there. I don't have marketing what's going on in Newcastle or, you know, Wales or Chester or, down in Taunton. I don't know anyone, you know, how do I get the message out though? I don't have big bucks to do television advert, radio advert you you know, hello, this is a

Danny:

like you said, the Willow foundation, you know, you found it by accident and it wasn't, it wasn't coming to you. And, and so now you're experiencing that with your own creation. You've created it, but how do you, how do people find out about it?

Avril:

Because actually the site's only as good as its content. Yeah. We're building the technology to connect people to it and yes, we will constantly improve and that we can see it. Now we know what are the things we want to do, but, we need people to put in the content, who are you, what services do you provide? What events have you got going? We've we've got this all events, calendar

Danny:

yeah.

Avril:

This is the stuff, and so I was literally in tears because I, I still, even now am terrified, absolutely terrified of letting everybody down, because they've invested time in this. and some donation money and things like that. And I, I met, um, I sat there and I did, I did, um, I did a little, I did a little prayer and I was like, you know, hello, golden universe. I don't know if I meant to do this anymore. And I just kind of needed a little bit of a nudge, you know, give me a little sign, you know, what? You could give me a sign. And, I thought, okay, carry on, get up, dust yourself off. Carry on, focus on an action? See what you can do, so I carried on and I was expecting maybe a phone call out of the blue from, an old colleague or something. Oh, you, you, you walk past a bus stop and there's a sign, you know what I mean? You just expecting something like that, and on the Wednesday, same week on the Wednesday were the Digital Leaders, award ceremony, and we were up for Health Tech Innovation of the Year. Mel and I were just having a fantastic time there, we've got to sit down and, you know, there's, they called our Cancer Central's name, right!. and I like, beg your pardon!, and it's a wonderful guy called John who, funnily enough, he was presenting the award and we'd met from before. And it was really lovely. It was really wonderful magic moment as he was him, to be honest with you. And I was standing next to Maggie Philbin, there was Maggie Philbin. With this award, with Mel, everyone clapping, and like, if you were to snapshot that moment going, wow, they're really successful. Look at this, a behind the scenes two days before there I was in hysterical tears going I don't think I can continue. And that's a sign and a half. Yes, I get it. Okay. I'm supposed to do, go, keep going, keep going. Um, Everybody knows, and everybody says this because we, we, we look at it on social media. We look at it, um, and profiles like that. There's always a story behind, and nothing is as glossy as it sounds, and nobody is an overnight entrepreneurial success. The site is still very young. I know what people are like, cause I do the same ago wow, God, they're amazing. Honestly, if you've seen the amount of tears and the amount of mascara runs I've had, I mean, yeah.

Danny:

I can really, I can really relate to that because I think on the exterior, I, myself also exude a level of confidence and a level of accomplishment, but people don't necessarily see the level of doubt and uncertainty that comes before that moment. And I'm not shy you're talking about. I give public presentations all the time and I love to start with, I didn't know anything about the thing that I'm deemed to be an expert about. I had to kind of figure it out and I'm not, I'm not shy about that. And I think sometimes we have to pretend and, um, it's, it's finding that fine balance between exuding positivity and something that's false and something that is a lot of effort to maintain a public face. You've got to be able to carry that and be, be honest with yourself and be honest with other people. So Avril thank you so much for being the first, the premiere guest on the Sondership podcast

Avril:

put people off

Danny:

I'll let you know.

Avril:

Please tune in to the next one.

Danny:

This is great that the purpose of Sondership is, is about hearing these stories, sharing these stories, and we hope it will grow into a bit of a platform so people can share their sonder moment. They can share how that empathy grew and as they found their purpose, what they created, what they did. This has been incredibly useful. So thank you once again. I hope people who've listened to it, have enjoyed it. You can follow us on Spotify and Google podcasts and Apple podcasts. Have a look at our website at sondership.com where you can join our mailing list and be notified about new episodes, events that might be set up in the future, potentially even Sondership merchandise. I know you all want a t-shirt. You can read our blog, not just from myself, but potentially from, from our guests as well. So thank you very much. Avril Chester founder and CEO of cancer central. You've been listening to the Sondership podcast with me, Danny Attias. Our guest in this, our first ever episode has been Avril Chester, founder, and CEO of cancer central as well as a self-proclaimed cancer thriver. Please do follow Sondership on your favorite podcasting platform and tune in to future episodes where you can hear more inspiring stories from people with purpose, including female empowerment, mental health, disability discrimination, social mobility, climate change, and much, much more. You did put cancer thriver, right?

Avril:

I don't like the word survivor And I've never associated with it. It's actually my board advisor, Simon Nelson. He is very inspirational to me. To tell you a little bit of a story, actually, when I was coming out of active treatments I met him through the latter part of my treatment, and it was a very strange situation because people kept saying to me, you're going to take it easy now Avril. I'm like, I'm not 80

Danny:

These are people who have not met Avril,

Avril:

you know what I mean? I'm kind of like you really, my friends to you really know who I am. Um, you know, I don't want to stop life, you know, so I, I, but I was really bothered by it because of the sheer volume of friends and family that said it, you know, it wasn't, you know, I was kind of like, okay. I'll never forget. So I caught up with Simon and, uh, he was. I think it was seven or eight years on. Um, and he had his whole stomach removed.

Danny:

Yeah.

Avril:

I mean, it's incredible. It literally goes straight to this. Guy's absolute incredible. And he has blossomed in his career. I mean, he works for the police, been superintendent and he's now the president of the disability association for the national police. I mean, he's he, and he went, do what you want to do Avril don't let this stop you. And I needed someone. I mean, mine is a slice off, right? Not an internal re-jig. Right? So I went,flipping heck um, needed someone who had thrived after to reassure my guts that were telling me I could be who I wanted to be.

Danny:

Hmm.

Avril:

Um, he was my inspiration to go right, come on world, Avril is coming, um there we go. So

Danny:

Excellent.

Avril:

When thriver, that's what it was.

Avril Chester

Founder & CEO, Cancer Central

Avril is an award-winning technology entrepreneur, executive, speaker, author and cancer thriver. Featured in Computer Weekly's most influential women in UK IT 2020 long list, Avril won Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2019 Women in IT Awards, is Founder & CEO of Cancer Central, Chief Technology Officer at Royal Institute of British Architects, one of the 3 Digital Amigos (podcast series), author of 'Be with me, it’s c' and ‘Taking That Leap of Faith’. She loves good food, big dreams and a giggle.