Jill Kerrigan: Tenacious Survivor | NAWBO

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Jill Kerrigan: Tenacious Survivor

Jill KerriganThere’s a special kind of tenacity that drives business owners. It’s the fuel that helps them keep going. No matter how hard they may fall, they always get back up and keep working toward their goals. That’s certainly true of Jill Kerrigan, who continues to prove over the course of her 20-plus-year career that she is one of the most tenacious business owners around.

Ask Jill, and she credits her innate drive to being the youngest of six kids. She grew up watching her single mother work three jobs to support her family, all while encouraging her kids to find their niche in life. After finding her niche in art, earning a degree in graphic design, and working as an art director for several years, Jill took the plunge in 1995—as she was raising her 2-year-old son—and started her own agency, JAK Creative Design, in the basement of her home. She welcomed two more children, both girls, in 1997 and 2006.

After putting her hard work and talent to the test, Jill’s business started to skyrocket. Today, she has 15 employees and works in a business space in the suburbs of Chicago that fosters JAK's culture of creativity. Her clients include high-profile organizations, like American Express, Exelon, ComEd, and Principal Financial Group. What’s more, Jill has never focused on marketing or advertising—nearly all of her clients have been referred via word-of-mouth.

After years of overcoming the challenges that come along with running a business, Jill was hit with one of the greatest challenges there is: in April 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She quickly started getting treatment and even throughout rounds of unforgiving chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, she has maintained her sense of humor and relied on her family, employees, and friends for lots of support. She also found support and motivation through her business and continued to go in at least once every day––even the day after her surgery, which she now admits might have been a good day to take off. “We are women warriors. That’s all we know. You get cancer, and you can either sit down and let it overwhelm you, or make it a more positive thing. It showed me to slow down and let others help me,” she says.

She also has found immense support in her sisters at NAWBO. In fact, shortly after starting her chemotherapy sessions, she was pleasantly surprised to receive a care package from fellow members filled with goodies, like a soft blanket, socks and an oatmeal bath treatment to help her through this time.

Filled with gratitude and love for her NAWBO sisters, Jill was bound and determined to attend this year’s National Women’s Business Conference. Although exhausted, she made the trip to Minneapolis and continued to wear her signature baseball cap with a Swarovski crystal pink breast cancer ribbon, to the events. “These ladies took me in. They walked with me as slow as I needed to go,” shares Jill. At the final event of the conference, she was in line with a group to take a photo, and she decided for the first time to take her hat off. "That was a big step for me, but these ladies empowered me to feel okay in the end. Because these ladies are so giving, I feel I can reach out to any one of them in a heartbeat,” she says.

As she continues to power through her radiation treatments, she hopes to finish treatment in mid-December and remains positive about what’s ahead. Her business also remains strong and she was recently the proud recipient of the 2017 Deborah M. Sawyer Rising Star Award from the Women’s Business Development Center of Chicago.

While difficult, this experience has been a lesson for Jill in the power of accepting help to heal and grow strong. Jill hopes that her story will inspire other women to do the same. “I hope it will encourage strong-headed entrepreneurs who don’t quit to feel that it’s okay to slow down and allow yourself to accept help,” she says.