Stacy Lavilla already had meaningful work before her breast cancer diagnosis five years ago. Her cancer battle only intensified her search for meaning and life balance.

At the time, the 43-year-old, a single mother of two kids, was working as communication director for AAPCHO, a nonprofit whose mission is to help communities gain access to affordable, high-quality health care.

After a terrifying 18 months of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor, she was deemed “cancer-free” in October 2013. Doctors still consider her a stage 4 cancer patient. “I’m told I’ll be receiving treatments the rest of my life.”

Gratitude Leads to Fearlessness

When Stacy finally returned to work, she did so with new perspective. “I always appreciated my work, but when I returned it became even more meaningful.”

Two years later, when she was laid off, Stacy leaned on that new perspective. Had this happened before her cancer struggle, Stacy says, “I would have been worried sick. But I had resolved that once my treatment was done, I would start living life with intention and not fear.”

Rather than become obsessed with worry, she chose to see the layoff as an opportunity to reassess her career choices.

“I saw it as life giving me the opportunity to take a leap I’ve long wanted to take but didn’t think I could. For many years, I’ve dreamed of becoming an independent business owner. Not only would I have the opportunity to work from home and have more time with my kids, but instead of supporting just one organization, I could assist several and impact many more people.”

She adds it also gave her the opportunity to feel more in control of her work-life balance. “I didn’t want my life to be work-centered anymore. I didn’t want my identity to be so tightly tied to my job.”

A UC Berkeley and Boston University grad with an MS in print journalism and decades of communication experience, Stacy brings a depth of strategic communication knowledge to the non-profit clients she now works with as an independent consultant.

Finding Work with Purpose

In her first year, she got work as a consultant to Asian Health Services, Greenlining Institute and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, to name a few. “I feel incredibly lucky to work with multiple nonprofits that are fighting for vulnerable communities and representing people of color.”

She’s especially proud of work she did for the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, a legal and civil rights organization. Following President Trump’s Muslim ban 2.0, the organization’s lawyers were so busy helping targeted individuals, they lacked staff to handle daily communication activities.

“I feel fortunate I was able to step in and help them keep their communication channels flowing with content in order to get the word out about the deeply important work they were doing.”


Stacy attended her first Independent Communicators’ Roundtable (ICR) Connect meeting last month and was so impressed, she joined IABC a few weeks later. “What impressed me most at this meeting was how everyone was extremely generous about offering tips and information to help me launch my business and make sure it’s successful.”

While she enjoys the flexibility of working for herself, choosing her clients and finding meaningful work, “It can also be lonely working for yourself,” she admits. “That’s one big reason I joined IABC. Not only does it help me network, it helps me feel part of something bigger, it helps me feel less alone. I feel like I’ve found my tribe.”

Lessons I’ve Learned

  • Better to try and not succeed than live with regret
  • Daily meditation is key to my releasing worry and staying grounded despite life’s ups and downs
  • Enjoy what’s happening in this moment
  • Do something you’ve always wanted to do; think of it as an experiment, not something you have to continue to do forever
  • If you don’t love your career, take steps to do what you love

Connect with Stacy on LinkedIn or visit her website.

Julie Knight

Julie Knight is an award-winning, accredited business communicator. Her clients have included The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, Cisco Systems, Genentech, McKesson Corporation and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn or



About ICR Connect

Former SF IABC President Kamna Narain developed ICR Connect recently as an adjunct to our already successful Independent Communicators Roundtable meetings, which provide a forum for independents to network and learn from each other.

ICR Connect’s mission is to help participants identify partnership opportunities, provide referrals and expand their network.

You will come together with nine other independent communications consultants to:

  • Exchange information on open positions and opportunities
  • Share details about your niche and desired clients through a five-minute “show and tell” presentation
  • Discuss and problem-solve a challenge related to managing and marketing your own business

If you’re an independent or interested in becoming one someday, join us for the next ICR Connect meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 12 to 2 p.m.

Seating is limited to eight attendees for ICR Connect. Reserve your spot by sending an email to Kamna Narain.