As Emma Isaacs' business began to thrive, her 4yo daughter found a lump on her neck.

That modern parenting platitude “I don’t know how she does it” is something you’ll hear a lot when it comes to Emma Isaacs. She’s the global CEO of a company dedicated to empowering women, a mother of five children under 10 – each of whom she gave birth to at home – and a published author.

But the Business Chicks boss has never been one to pretend her life is all balanced and blissful. She’s endured challenges and hardships, the most difficult of which struck her eldest daughter.

Milla, now aged nine, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was just four years old. What began as lump on her neck, spiralled into months of hospital visits, diagnosis and ultimately six months of chemotherapy.

Speaking to Show & Tell, Isaacs said the illness “came completely out of left field”.

“No one wakes up one day and expects to hear that their four-year-old has cancer,” she said.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a rare cancer of the lymphatic system, that’s typically characterised by tumours in the lymph nodes (glands). Roughly 600 Australians are diagnosed each year, 30 of which are children.


As Isaacs wrote in her book, Winging It, treatment was “confronting and overwhelming”; arduous for Milla and heartbreaking for those who watched on.

“I can’t tell you how many times I lay in bed next to Milla with tears streaming down my face,” Isaacs wrote. “I wasn’t sobbing or making a sound, but the tears just wouldn’t stop. I was wishing with all my heart that it was me going through it and not her.”

Still, the entrepreneur said she and her family “got off lightly”. The disease has high chances of survival among children, especially when caught early.

“We were very resolute from the very start; there was no doubt she was going to survive this. Our job is just to make it as gentle as possible,” she said.

“[We asked] What can we learn from this? How can we make this a beautiful thing? Where is the beauty in this? Where is the love, where is the light in this?” she told Show & Tell. “And there was so much of it. There was honestly so much love in that experience. The way my family held us, the way my business held me.”


Emma Isaacs chats to Holly Wainwright about why she doesn’t aim to be the perfect parent.

Five years on, Isaacs says Milla is healthy, resilient and independent. But the scars of her experience remain.

“She’s got a lot of healing to do from it, and it’s only starting to come out now that she’s able to express herself. There’s a lot of anger,” she said.

“When her hair fell out she’d go to the park and the kids would tease her. And when she started at school, [they’d say] ‘Why are you a boy wearing a dress?’… We have to work hard on that with her.”

Isaacs said the whole experience has afforded her a new perspective on life and motherhood.

As she previously told Mamamia, she doesn’t strive for perfectionism or even balance in her parenting.

“I don’t believe in balancing… but what parenting and having [five] children has taught me is that I have to turn the laptop off at a certain point… you know I can’t work the hours I used to,” she said.

“I’m very chilled out, and relaxed… you just go with the flow and know that your mistakes are going to build character in your kids.”