Liya Shuster-Bier’s career was a whirlwind one.
Now 34, the New York native went to Dartmouth on a scholarship, worked at Goldman Sachs and a startup in Boston, and then attended Wharton Business School to get her MBA, all at the age of 30.
In January 2018, six months after graduating and returning to the startup world, Shuster-Beer was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Despite six rounds of chemotherapy, her cancer had returned by the end of the year. This time she would undergo both radiation and a stem cell transplant to get rid of them, the latter being so aggressive that she would spend the next 100 days regaining the strength to simply walk around the block.
Shuster-Beer is now three years in remission. Shortly after she regained her strength, she quit her job to start Alula, a marketplace for products to help cancer patients manage symptoms and side effects of their treatment, such as constipation and dehydration. The company has raised $2 million and now has four employees.
If there’s one thing Shuster-Beer has learned from her harrowing journey and one career piece of advice she’d like to share with others, it’s “be fearless,” she says.
She tells the story of radiation as one of the moments that helped her achieve that fearlessness herself. The treatment is one that many people perform even while at work.
“You walk into the waiting room and you can sort of tell what everyone’s doing during the day,” she says. “And then you put on your radiation gown and then you’re all literally in the same radiation gown, buttocks out, sitting and waiting for the radiation chamber.” After that, everyone goes through the same process, one-on-one with the radiation machine, “which literally poisons you there,” she says.
“And I had that moment all the time, no amount of money in our wallets can save us from that moment,” she says. “We’re all here.” It made her realize that she didn’t have to limit herself by the expectations of others or what society thought she could do.
For example, when it came to starting her business, she might have been put off by the fact that businesses founded entirely by women received only 2.7% of venture capital investments in 2019 (2% in 2022), according to PitchBook. Or that months after starting her business and trying to raise venture capital herself, the world fell headlong into a pandemic. In theory, these would make your chances of success very slim. But after beating cancer, she realized it only mattered what actually happened after she tried. Because she could still beat the odds.
“Why would you believe in any of the limits?” she says she noticed. “They’re all wrong. And in the end, they don’t matter.” She has been able to build her business independently of both and what others have advised her to do about it.
Her journey made her realize, “Hey, if you’ve only got this much to live for, you might as well live on the brink,” she says, adding, “That’s where all the fun is.”
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