Vanessa Perumal – The Phenomenal Woman who Traded her Voice for Life
Having a total laryngectomy was about saving my life. This decision was the trade off which enabled me to choose life and also have my cancer removed.
Nothing can stop a woman who is determined to rise. A force to be reckoned with, a fighter and above all a voice for the voiceless. Vanessa Perumal is one phenomenal woman to celebrate, cherish and indeed worth connecting with. In the midst of Covid-19 and at the height of lockdown in May 2020, after her diagnosis of a rare throat cancer she had to urgently make a life changing decision to undergo a rare throat cancer operation that saw her trade her voice box and undergo a total laryngectomy, for life. Do you think this could slow her? You are wrong! Right after the operation she was on all social media channels sharing her story and connecting with people, and going about her business.
Vanessa’s story is full of inspirations and tremendous valuable lessons. Her incredible business journey, challenges, experiences and advise assures us that, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vanessa runs a successful PR and media company in South Africa, (JT Comms). She has established #ECAfrica a network that connects and profiles entrepreneurs. Indeed a disruptor in the media industry.
Let her journey of hope inspires you. YOU ARE WORTH IT! YOU CAN DO IT!
Tell us about yourself and your family?
I was born in the East Rand and studied Journalism after matric and continued my education in Media, PR and Communication. As a social entrepreneur, social justice is important to my value system and activism is at the core of much of the work we activate and pursue. My two children are students at Wits University and my husband and I work together at JT Communication Solutions a media and comms agency started 16 years ago. I’m inspired by the human spirit and those leaders and ordinary human beings who pave the way for mankind to live the best version of our lives through showing us the power of extraordinary leadership.
Family has always been the glue that connects my DNA. What I have learnt through the journey my rare cancer diagnosis, and now in post recovery, is that I would not be able to cope and survive without the comfort and care my entire network. Without my husband and children, my broader family, friends and people I have not met who continue to show me kindness on my second lease on life, I am deeply gratified and inspired by their selfless love.
Nothing tops the privilege of being a mother. I am also grateful to use my voice in furthering social justice and supporting human rights activism. As a social entrepreneur and a black woman in business. To be part of the first generation of women in Gig economies pioneering new business solutions in Pan African markets, validates why networks and positioning your brand in credible ecosystems is relevant.
You run a successful PR and Media company tell us about your journey and how long you have been doing this?
We recognized that there was a missing narrative of positive black stories profiled in media. We were fortunate to attract some of the most influential movers and shakers, captains of industry and influential PR accounts. At the core of our work is story telling. This combination of competencies has enabled JT Comms to win numerous business awards and also attract some of the most strategic businesses in South Africa particularly in Arts, Culture, Lifestyle and Economics. What sets us apart is that we are rooted on the continent with a Pan African agenda and support Black Empowerment as a core value of our business model.
Now that we are living in Covid economies, we, like most SME’s are back at the drawing board rethinking and relooking at how we can innovate and create value while transforming to adapt to the new normal. Training and educating young black professionals in our sector and providing and work experience is much needed.
What challenges do you encounter doing business and how do you think these challenges can be addressed?
This is an age old problem of how businesses have failed to transform and how far the gap continues to widen. In South Africa, and in addition to female empowerment, the challenges are wider and will take generations to correct. Accessing new business markets remains a challenge. Most women owned businesses cannot access finance and resource support. Managing day to day needs means we often always are in survival mode. When we own the means to our economy we will put ourselves in a position to have collective bargaining power.
You started EC Africa100 movement for entrepreneurs. How has this created business networks and how can more women be part of this movement?
As disruptors and futurists always striving to build new solutions we recognized the influence and importance of using technology and digital solutions as an opportunity to help entrepreneurs scale their products and services. In 2018 together with like minded entrepreneurs we launched a hashtag on twitter called #ECAfrica which stands for Entrepreneur Connect Africa. Connecting to a Pan African ecosystem is the vision. In 2019 we were privileged to profile 100 entrepreneurs which allowed us to connect to a wider continental movement of entrepreneurs.
#ECAfrica is a movement and anyone is invited to the table to be part of business solutions helping entrepreneurs pivot digital transformation and scale their products and services. Join the hashtag and connect.
How is JT Comms impacting communities?
Our impact in supporting projects like #BringBackOurGirls #NotoXenophobia #FeesMustFall and supporting #GBV initiatives. Building capacity towards highlighting social justice and responsible social upliftment projects is something we strive to promote and work in synergy with collaborative like minded networks. Promoting entrepreneurship and becoming part of a conscious ecosystem to support job creation makes JT Communication Solutions and a valuable partner.
You recently announced a major partnership between JT Comms and Frontline Media. What will this achieve?
With Covid-19 forcing entrepreneurs to re-think business models JT Communications is collaborating with global PR, Comms and Media agency Frontline Media who are Tanzanian based with offices around the continent. Our focus is on building strategic collaborations and networks to develop and scale into new markets. With our partnership we are optimistic to align and broker into new business opportunity to grow networks and keep our businesses relevant. One of the projects we are working on is producing content for Fintech TV which allows us to grow our production business.
What can we expect to see in the next three to five years and what is your greatest business accomplishment to date?
Living in uncertain times and with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing entrepreneurs globally to rethink the way and how we do business, we are hoping we can continue to lead and build business models that allow us to be relevant. In gig economies our intention is to position JT Comms to amplify Pan African Business solutions in global markets. What we want to avoid doing, is to rebuild solutions that already exist.
We started our media and communication agency at a time when South Africa was in early days of transformation from apartheid. From inception, we were able to influence significant market share and establish credibility as leaders. As social entrepreneurs positioning black excellence, has seen us take on a business sector highly untransformed and make a significant difference. In addition to ECAfrica and being the first generation black women entrepreneurs in a digital era, JT Communication Solutions has crafted platforms like Bunnies in the Burbs, allowing us to invest and launch the JT Comms African Media Resource Centre.
Tell us about the cancer, the operation and your healing process?
After been ill for months and going for so many medical tests we found out on 9 May 2020 and my operation to remove the cancer was on the 13 May 2020, slap bang during Covid-19 and in our lockdown. My ENT told me how far the cancer growth was and that to remove the cancer the only way to do the operation was to remove my voice box. Having a total laryngectomy was about saving my life. This decision was the trade off which enabled me to choose life and also have my cancer removed.
Your journey to recovery within a very short space of time has been incredible. What has been the magic to living so positively?
Learning to accept my new normal, embracing my stoma and the second chances God has given me is as difficult as I make it to adjust. Through God’s grace I am learning to be grateful. I have realized that there is so little knowledge by both the medical fraternity and everyone in between. This has been an opportunity for me to advance my knowledge and education I can share. Though my cancer is so rare, we can enable medical science to learn from my the new documentary. My life and journey of healing inspires me to embrace my new destiny.
What key lessons can you share on moving on and letting go?
I learnt is that God is real and that you can rely on his infinite mercy. what I know for sure is that courage and bravery will find you. Know that all of us have the ability to rise, no matter how fearful the situation. Live your life in the moment and make memories. As a family we have made travelling a priority. Every year we travel to new countries, as far as our currency can take us. Waiting for tomorrow is not where and how you want to live your life.
I went into the operation knowing my voice box would be removed. I prayed for a miracle and now realize that the miracle is having the ability to let go of my old voice, make peace and embrace my new speaking opportunities available to cancer survivors like me. Learning to be gracious and grateful sometimes is so much harder to do and I continue to pray to have the courage to completely embrace my new second chance.
You have created a blog to share your experiences and your journey to recovery with the world. How has this helped you with your healing?.
My family and I were isolated. For my sanity and to help my husband and kids I knew we needed help as a family. This proved to be too daunting. @Miraculous Moments is a blog I decided to put up late on Mother’s Day, three days before my procedure. The healing for my family and I started even before I went to theater. We received hundreds of messages from around the world. It was so powerful and inspiring. It continues to uplift and help motivate us as a family. I am grateful to be in a position to journal and share my experience.
How do you strike a balance between work, family and self?
One of the successes of JT Communication Solutions is our ability to work smart. We bring in the right skills sets and share the pie which ensures we can also bring in balance. Over the years my kids know me to build value around the adage work really hard and play even smarter. As an example we lock up office for four weeks a year and travel.
What advise can you share with other entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey but at the same time is has to be an enjoyable part of your life. Bring in the passion to what you do. When you work with passion the end results speaks volumes of the impact you can make and the way other people experience your activation.
When you are in business you also need to have a positive cashflow and make a profit. It is really tough to break into new markets but as I get older the one thing I wish I could do over again is to be bolder in experimenting with diverse income streams. Covid-19 is teaching us that life can change overnight and you need to have a far wider reach.
Successful business people know that its important to invest back into your business. Bring in skills that support job creation and build in equity and create value over longer term. Open yourself and try new things. Remember you will fail and doors will keep shutting around you. Don’t fear failure and learn to celebrate your successes and achievements.
Where can people reach you
I spend a lot of time online. @vanessaperumal is my social media handle and I can be reached on all my platforms or my email Vanessa@jtcomms.co.za I also have a blog documenting my cancer recovery called @Miraculous Moments which is on Facebook.
Vanessa’s Story is one that is truly remarkable, a journey of hope, a journey of purpose. LIVE YOUR PURPOSE!