Undergoing chemo and…calling clients. That’s dedication. And that was Todd Bury one year ago, as the principal of the Poland, Ohio-based Bury Financial Group busied himself on the phone during his 9-hour infusion sessions.
“It was therapeutic for me,” says Bury — referring to the communication with clients, not the medicine — though he gives credit to modern medical treatment as well in response to a question about whether he feared dying during his nine-month ordeal.
“Strangely I didn’t. It was weird. I just felt like I was gonna beat this. I knew attitude was a lot of it. I’m not naïve enough to say it wasn’t the medicine; I just think the other half was attitude,” he tells ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview.
The advisor, who is affiliated with SagePoint Financial, an AIG Advisor Group broker-dealer, had every reason to dread the worst possible outcome when the then 42-year-old was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Diffuse, large B-cell lymphoma in February 2014.
That’s because that was the same age his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she died of her illness when Bury was just 11.
But Bury not only beat the disease — he was declared in remission in November — he ended up beating his pre-set business goals to wind up with the best year of his career.
Contrary to what one might expect, the advisor’s struggle with cancer actually spurred his efforts to accelerate his business growth.
Despite intensive and often painful treatments including chemo, spinal taps and radiation, Bury blasted through the $1 million production hurdle — three years ahead of schedule.
Bury commenced his five-year plan to achieve his goal of becoming a $1 million producer in 2013; the plan called for him to reach various production targets in each of five years.
But a 30% surge in business in 2014 got him there quicker than expected.
The advisor, who manages about $140 million in assets for over 150 clients, brought in $20 million in new assets that year — more than half from 4 or 5 large new accounts as well as significant new assets from existing clients.
“The $1 million [goal] was about more than being a million-dollar producer; it was about the journey,” Bury says. “I like a challenge, and it was almost therapeutic.”
Bury’s journeying included 90-minute commutes to the Cleveland Clinic every other week from his exurban community south of Youngstown.
He’d arrive early Thursday to start his 9-hour infusion treatments. Calling clients proved to be the therapy he needed to cope with the chemotherapy he was receiving those long days.
While he wasn’t exactly advertising his medical treatment, neither was he hiding anything if the subject arose in his conversations.
On one occasion, there was no possible concealment when a client turned up in the same hospital room for her own chemo. They embraced each other and exchanged encouragement, though the woman didn’t make it; she died one month later.
Bury would stay over at the home of a local cousin after those long chemo sessions to be on site for the spinal taps he’d have on Fridays. They were an hour-and-a-half long and painful.
“The trip back home was the worst,” he recalls. Every little pothole in Cleveland’s roads shot pain into his back. It would take him the whole weekend to recover, and he learned to do everything, including eating, lying down, since standing up for even just a few seconds would induce excruciating headaches.
But he’d be back in the office on Mondays — or on Tuesday if he needed that extra day to recover.
One of those days back to the office, right after Easter weekend, was especially awkward, following the loss of his hair from the chemo.
While Bury was accepting of the change, and appreciated that his colleagues didn’t react to his changed appearance, he was deeply touched when his partner Brian Laraway showed up at work the next day with his hair shaved.
“It meant a lot,” he recalls. “My team was all on board … when I was out of the office, they didn’t miss a beat—we’re like a family there…Most of [our success] was attributable to them.”
Bury also heaps praise on his broker-dealer.
“SagePoint has been fantastic,” he says, recalling the BD’s annual conference last September in Nashville when SagePoint president Jeff Auld put together a presentation before the hundreds of advisors attending saluting Bury for his courage in the face of his illness and also announcing Bury’s $1 million production goal.
“The support I got was overwhelming,” he says. “For me it really hit home that these people really care about me; it’s a blessing.”
Publicizing his goal strengthened Bury’s determination to achieve it.
“They almost pushed me to do better,” says Bury, who is one of the firm’s top 25 producers and who is again ahead of pace in 2015 compared with the previous year.
What started with perplexing symptoms — redness on a cheek, a lump growing under his eye, which was starting to close a little bit—and continued with lifesaving treatment and a vast support network of family and friends, ended with remission, the achievement of an ambitious production goal, and with enduring lessons learned.
“I really believe attitude is everything; I don’t even want to be around anyone who’s negative,” he says.
The brush with mortality put life in perspective for the advisor.
“We were a really close family all along. We got even closer if that’s possible.” Bury wanted the experience to teach his three daughters a crucial lesson:
“Sometimes you’re gonna be knocked down in life. It’s not about that; it’s how you react to it. I wanted to teach that I didn’t feel sorry for myself. Not everything goes the way you want in life; but it’s about how you deal with it.
“The biggest lesson I learned was to not take things for granted,” he continues.
“I took for granted that I’d get up healthy every single day; I took the relationship with the kids a little for granted; I’d [just] say good-bye in the morning and give a kiss.
“Things that I thought were important before all of a sudden are a lot less important. Family and clients and making sure they’re taken care of are what’s important; the way the mulch looks and making sure the grass is being cut — those went way down the list.”
Bury, who says he “used to be a scratch golfer” and admits to being possessed of a competitive spirit, says he never recovered his skill at the game after his treatment. Today’s he content to be in the company of his friends while on the putting green.
“I still like to be good at what I do, [but] this stuff is just not as important anymore,” he says.
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