Suzanne West's story has been one of reinvention, for herself and for the energy industry she's sought to make more environmentally sustainable.
Now the Calgary-based entrepreneur faces a new and difficult chapter after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
The way she sees it, it disrupts her short-term plans, but does not change her overall goals.
"Trying to change the world is taking on a new dimension. But you know what? You have to embrace all the things that the universe sends you and I've decided there are still great things to do in my life," Ms. West, 52, said in an interview. "It's super challenging but I also keep reminding myself that I'm lucky on many fronts."
Ms. West, who's built an international following for her progressive ideas on fossil fuels and the environment, is stepping aside as chief executive officer of her newly founded company, Imaginea IO, to focus on recovery.
The clean-energy startup's co-founder and chief technology officer, Nav Dhunay, will assume the roles of president and CEO, effective immediately.
The drastic hit to Ms. West's health capped a tumultuous few months. In November, she parted ways with her U.S.-based private-equity backer, Lime Rock Partners, which resulted in the demise of her former firm, Imaginea Energy Corp.
Ms. West had founded Imaginea in 2013 to demonstrate that fossil fuels could be produced with low impact and carbon offsets by employing solar energy, drones and state-of-the-art computer technology. But by late 2017, Lime Rock wanted higher returns from the company's oil operations.
"They wanted to turn it into a more traditional oil and gas company, and you know me – I'm not interested in that, like, at all," she said.
Lime Rock transferred the oil and gas assets to a new firm called Cor4 Oil Corp., and Ms. West set about writing a new script for Imaginea, one more tightly focused on technology development and adoption as well as new sources of funding, including cryptocurrency. It is also aimed at developing a new funding ecosystem for her brand of energy production. Ultimately, she said, the idea is to build value for society while also making money for the enterprise.
It's that kind of non-traditional thinking that's made Ms. West a sought-after speaker on the energy circuit in Alberta and around the world. She's won fans for spreading the gospel that fossil fuels and environmental protection can co-exist as technology advances, and spending the capital to make it happen.
Ms. West, a one-time traditional oil CEO, has honed the approach since attending a conference of entrepreneurs, academics and philanthropists on Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson's island in the British Virgin Islands five years ago.
On Jan. 12, with virtually no warning, she was stopped in her tracks by a seizure. It revealed stage-four glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that begins within the brain. It is the same malady that felled Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman, last October. Ms. West has since undergone surgery to remove the mass.
"They carved off part of my brain, which was not very healthy, and we're going to start, in two weeks or so, some pretty aggressive chemotherapy and radiation to basically kill that part. And then I can get back to changing the world," she said.
Her plan is to take the next six months of recovery to develop ways to create more interest in the new 13-employee enterprise, if not dealing with the day-to-day operations.
Her message was already gaining traction in very influential quarters. In December, the Vatican invited her to take part in discussions about energy and the environment as part of a group that will include some of the world's major oil companies.
"That's why I'm going to get healthy and get my brain back so that we can continue to drive those conversations with them, to present to the world different options around how we can have conversations around energy that aren't just about renewables," Ms. West said. "They can include fossil fuels because we can produce them without emissions, without pollution, without use of fresh water."