Product management while facing death
Eight minutes after I told my manager that it’s time for me to depart, my phone rang. To my surprise it was one of my facebook friends.
This wouldn’t have been that unusual, if it wasn’t for the backstory.
It was a girl I never personally met or even spoke with before. But back then we had common circles, similar age, so we connected on facebook. Since we became '“friends“ in 2011, all I knew about her was from what she would post. Which was quite a lot, actually.
Unlike me, she gladly shares many private details about her life to a degree, that would have made me quite uncomfortable. For example, about her ups and downs in her relationships, or about bad clients who wouldn’t pay for her design work. At the end, life situations we all experience at some point, but would rather not talk them.
So when in 2013 she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she would share pictures and posts about how her treatment goes and how she feels. Even without knowing her personally, it made me think about how fragile life is. I, myself, have lost a family member to cancer, so I empathised with her and sent her few encouraging messages.
Luckily, she got cured and everything was back to normal. She even gave birth to a baby boy, despite the doctor’s conclusion that she is no longer capable of that.
Then last April she posted that the cancer had returned, and this time the prognosis was she only had 1-3 months.
So when she started a donations campaign, I though I’d contribute. She was willing to fight for a second time for the little time and chance she had, and I supported that attitude. In few weeks the money for treatment were collected and she started her procedures. Life went on for both of us and again all I would learn was if I read one of her posts.
Until eight minutes after I told my manager I’m leaving. At that moment, I saw her name on my phone display and I really couldn’t imagine why would she, out of all the people she knew, decide to call me.
When I picked up the phone, she passionately explained that in the last year she has been working on a project. Since her child was going to be faced with losing his mother at such a young age and without the chance to create and keep a lasting memory of her, she decided to take care of that.
She decided that whatever little time she has, she wants to spend leaving a trace and limiting death’s impact.
Her idea was to make a book. A kids book about a panda mother, a tiger father and their little lion Luca - the name of her son. The book would go on and tell the story of their family and eventually - that she won’t be there when Luca is growing up. But that her memory, her spirit, will always be with him and give him courage in his life.
She explained to me that for the past year, she has been gathering people - designers, copy writers, publishing specialists, web developers and financial advisors - to help her bring that book into reality. And that they actually managed to do it - they printed her son’s book. All while juggling being a mother, having cancer treatments, getting her things in order, earning some living and trying to have a personal life. All while knowing things can change any moment.
After hearing all that, I could only admire her work. She went from 0 to 1 in a state where most of us would just give up. She did a marvellous job organising a team, designing the book and making something real out of an idea, all on her own. So why does she need me?, I asked myself.
“If this book can help my boy overcome death, why not help the other kids and families as well?”
“There are so many families going through similar situations, I want to make it easy to start and talk about it. I want to put this book in the hands of other kids as well. I just don’t know how to do that. I don’t know what to do next.“
Now I knew why she called me. In the next days we were busy with aligning and making a plan. We will start a funding campaign in the next days and approach different institutions, which could offer the book to their patients as part of their care programme.
When time is short, there is a lot to do. And whining is not an option.
Working next to Ornella is a precious experience and a constant reminder how much one can achieve when she has a goal. Product management inspired by desire to make it happen. Product management forced by time. Product management where you either make it or you don’t.
The real product management.