Losing her Mum to pancreatic cancer prompted one Australian woman to go freelance so she could run a social awareness campaign to make a difference.

Freelance writer Jessica Abelsohn tells her story:

Being freelance means I have the freedom to not only work when I want and on what projects I choose, but it also means I have the flexibility to attend meetings for #PurpleOurWorld, run the social media and even attend the annual World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition meeting in the US, without having to ask for leave.

Most of the time, my freelancing involves writing. A lot of it is ghostwriting. I’m given a brief and occasionally some dot points or ideas, and I’m left to research the topic and write the blog or article. I’ve also done some freelance editing and some social media management.

The thing I love most about my work is that I learn so much about topics I would never choose to research. I find it fascinating. I also love that I have such diverse clients and topics. I can be writing about the property market one day and floral arrangements the next. While some topics are quite meaty, involving finance or law, others are a bit lighter.

It’s nice to have that range so if I’m starting to feel a bit bogged down in the nitty gritty of technical writing, I can change to the lifestyle topics for a break. While I love most of the work I do, by far, my favourite topic is parenting. As a new parent myself, I’m writing about what’s current in my life. It’s almost therapeutic. A lot of my work has featured on Babyology, covering topics such as choosing to bottle feed and how I coped with becoming a mum after losing my own. I’m incredibly proud of those.

Being a freelance writer and running a social media movement is a juggle though. And there are days when it’s incredibly tough. I’ve had to put #PurpleOurWorld work before my paid work which is never easy. Of course, everything gets done. It’s just about what gets done during daylight hours and often the #PurpleOurWorld work is timely. Splitting my time can be challenging, however I’m a big fan of to-do lists and I’m incredibly organised. You have to be if you work for yourself, otherwise nothing would get done.

Each afternoon, I sit down and see what needs to be done the following day. I then prioritise the list and work my way down. Every day is different. Some days it’s more #PurpleOurWorld focused and other days it’s more freelance focused. This also depends on the time of year. As we move towards November (Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month) and World Pancreatic Cancer Day (WPCD) – which falls on 15 November this year – all things purple tend to ramp up, which means I’m a whole lot buiser. As a mum, I’m also working around my son’s schedule which adds even more madness to the mix.

Why I decided to go freelance:

In 2013, my mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. You never want to hear a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, but pancreatic, that’s a whole different ballgame. There is no cure.

The diagnosis was a very big wake up call for me. I was working five days a week. It was a job I loved with a company I adored. But it was too much. I struggled to find motivation to go into the office every day knowing I was on limited time with my mum. My mum and I had always discussed me becoming my own boss. One of the reasons I chose to be a writer was so that I could eventually freelance.

Throughout mum’s illness, I continued to work full time. I was fortunate that the company allowed me to work two days a week from home, meaning I could take mum to the hospital to get her chemo treatment or I could be there to make her lunch (on the odd occasion she actually felt like eating). It was psychological for me – the need to see my mum with my own two eyes. And it was psychological for mum – the need to see me get up every day and continue with the normality of life.

Mum passed away in August 2014. Three months later, together with my family, I founded #PurpleOurWorld – a social media movement dedicated to raising awareness of pancreatic cancer. For the first six months, I struggled to juggle my workload and #PurpleOurWorld. We were in that all important start-up phase of meetings, growth and development. I was handling all of the social media content, setting up meetings after hours and still working five days a week. By November, I had made my decision. The only way forward was to resign and go out on my own.

Quite frankly, it was terrifying. Suddenly, our mortgage, bills and living expenses were reliant on my husband’s income. But it was most definitely the right decision.

While #PurpleOurWorld would exist if I was working full-time, I would not be able to personally dedicate as much time to the cause. Of course, my family play a big role in the movement, but I am the one doing bulk of the work, especially when it comes to social media. We’ve achieved great strides since we started. We’ve taken on two Ambassadors in Tracey Spicer and Robbie Farah, we’ve formed the Pancreatic Cancer Alliance in Australia, and we’re inaugural members of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition. We also sit on the WPCD Committee, which means once a month I’m up at 4:45am for a global conference call.

Awareness of pancreatic cancer is ramping up, and some very interesting and exciting research is being done in the space. There’s a lot more to do though which is why I plan to stay freelance for as long as possible. I hope one day, there will no longer be a need for #PurpleOurWorld, we’ll have progressed so much that pancreatic cancer won’t be a death sentence. But until that day comes, I’ll continue juggling the freelance and social media movement life.

Read more about Jessica Abelsohn and check out some of her work samples on her profile page. 

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