Recently, I was lucky enough to connect with an amazing woman named Kathy McCabe.

Kathy is an internationally recognized virtual assistant who also happens to suffer from Meniere’s disease, as well as several other chronic illnesses. Her story is remarkable. In the face of tremendous adversity, she has found success as a virtual assistant and has been able to continue to work and provide for her family. 

I invited Kathy to share her story with you all today, and to explain a little bit more about what a virtual assistant is, and how you can become one, too.

I’m Kathy and I have Meniere’s Disease.

Actually, I have bi-lateral Meniere’s disease, Migraine with Aura and chronic pain. But up until almost 3 years ago, I was normal. (Or at least I tried to be normal). Then, one day, out of nowhere, I had vertigo for the first time as I was walking across the room.

My Tinnitus, which I’ve had in both ears for many years (and has also caused hearing loss), now roars during attacks, which can happen at any time, with little or no warning.

I went to my walk-in clinic and they sent me to the hospital where doctors weren’t sure what was wrong or if I was having a stroke, so they admitted me for observation. I left thirty hours later still dizzy and on my way to a neurologist.

He was the first doctor to mention Meniere’s disease to me, although he said he was sure I didn’t have it since both my ears were affected, but he was at least open to the possibility. He sent me to other doctors for more tests and opinions. It took nearly a year and a long line of doctors before I finally got a diagnosis from Dr. John Carey at the John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He is an amazing doctor, and really listened!

Working with Chronic Illness(es):

During this time, I became ever more grateful that I worked as a virtual assistant from my home office. When I started my practice nearly twenty years ago, it never occurred to me that I might one day have to battle chronic disease, but now that I do, I’m glad that I can work from home. It’s made everything so much easier for me. Now, when I can’t get up to the office, I can login remotely from anywhere and still be productive.

What exactly is a virtual assistant (VA)? A VA is a highly skilled independent contractor who provides administrative and specialized services from a remote location. VA skillsets vary but all the work is performed offsite, saving the client money because they don’t have to provide office equipment, space, company benefits, or insurance, and are not responsible for the virtual assistant’s taxes. The VA’s office consists of a computer, telecommunications and basic office furniture and is generally located in the assistant’s home. The virtual assistant may be a generalist – an administrative assistant who works virtually – or may be specialized in one or more of a number of niches such as a Social Media Specialist, Author’s Assistant, Website Designer, Marketing and more, the list is endless.

I became a virtual assistant by a fluke. I answered an ad in the local paper and when I interviewed with the company, I discovered it was a home based position doing clerical work. They gave me a week’s trial and during that time we worked out the differences between my pc and their mac and I ended up working with them for years. It was only a month after getting this job that I realized I could do this type of work for other clients, all from home. I never looked back!

When I first started, no one knew what a virtual assistant was. There was literally no industry for it then, with only a few brave souls paving the way. I’m proud to say that I’m one of those early pioneers.

How to Become a Virtual Assistant:

Unfortunately, not everyone can become a VA. Just because you have a computer does not automatically make you qualified. It takes skill, intelligence, and most importantly, the ability to work unsupervised. But if you do possess office administration skills, or are willing to learn the skills you’d like to offer (anything from desktop publishing, website design, online business management and more) and can work unsupervised, then you can become a VA.

Virtual assisting is not a get rich quick scheme. It will require time and patience to establish a clientele. I heartily recommend training in current technology, processes and procedures as well as marketing to promote your business. There are a number of very good online training establishments that can help you learn the skills you’ll need to meet your goals. I recommend:

  • Virtual Assistant Training Center: Craig and Kelly Cannings have been providing training for virtual assistants for over a decade and are very well respected.
  • AssistU: AssistU was the very first online VA training center. The founder, Anastacia Brice, was the first person to be called a Virtual Assistant. She was the VA for Thomas Leonard, the founder of Coachville, who coined the phrase.
  • VA Networking: In addition to being one of the largest VA organizations in the industry, VA Networking also has several very well thought out training opportunities and books. As well as the coveted Virtual Assistant Certification program.

Also, a number of books have been written by very talented virtual assistants on how to start a virtual assistant business. Among them are: Virtual Assistant – the Series: Become a Highly Successful Sought After VA by Kelly Poelker and Diana Ennen, and How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business by Janice Byer and Elayne Whitfield-Parr. There are many others, doing a simple search on Amazon and Google will help you find them

People with chronic illness sometimes feel that they need to hide their condition from their able bodied colleagues. Most of the time, this not by an active omission, but because we know deep down that our illnesses can make other people uncomfortable.

With virtual assisting, all of that changes. Working as a VA means that our illnesses and disabilities don’t have to be a detriment. As a VA I have been blessed to be able to work with clients who are located around the world, all from my home office or from the ‘couch office’ when I’m unable to climb the stairs.

When you are setting up your office for your VA practice, bear in mind that what services you intend to offer will dictate whether your office should be private – and quiet – or not. For instance, if you want to offer virtual receptionist services, it would be a good idea to have an office with a door. However, if you only plan on providing administrative, social media or any other service that doesn’t require a quiet environment, you could make your office the dining room table.

No matter how you choose to set up your space, the there are many benefits to be being a virtual assistant. When you work for yourself, you can do what it takes to ensure your illness doesn’t interfere (as much) the way it would with a brick and mortar office job. Attendance doesn’t make such a difference when you’re your own boss.

In addition to a proper setup for your workspace, be sure to pay attention to the organization of your business.

  1. Make a business plan.
  2. Register your business with your state or local entity. This is where you should decide to operate as a Limited Liability Company or sole proprietorship. Be sure to obtain your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.

    A Limited Liability Company (LLC) offers you as a business owner a little more protection than a sole proprietorship does in terms of lawsuits. (For in depth information of the differences between sole proprietor and LLC check out this information from

  3. Decide on your initial services based on your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Begin marketing by developing your website and online profiles.
  5. Work on your social media and content creation to ensure the most search engine engagement. If you are unsure on this process, training is highly recommended.

Also, because virtual assistants work alone, isolation can quickly become a problem, especially if your chronic illness makes it difficult to network or socialize with your colleagues. Online VA associations have definitely filled this void in my life when it comes to isolation. I heartily recommend:


Not only have I been blessed to be a part of this incredible industry, I have been honored by it. In 2013, I was named the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction, which is a singular and prestigious award given to the most deserving virtual assistant as judged by their peers.


Being able to provide support for my clients for nearly twenty years has solidified my belief that this is THE industry that is most suitable for those of us who suffer chronic/or incurable illnesses.

Kathy McCabe is the owner of Hilltop Secretarial Service ( and an internationally recognized virtual assistant serving her clients for over 19 years. She is also an herbalist and photographer whose work is available at Additionally, Kathy also offers her expertise as a consultant for new virtual assistants. She is a chronic illness sufferer (Meniere’s Disease, Migraine with Aura, Chronic Pain and visually impaired). She was named the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction for 2013, Semi-Finalist in the 2005 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Rocky Mountain Region, and has been featured in numerous publications and books. 

Feel free to contact Kathy to learn more:

  1. Elizabeth Stengel

    Kathy – very interesting & helpful piece. I’ve had Meniere’s for about 25 years . I now seem to be beyond severe vertigo but do get dizzy when my tinnitus is strong or when I’m fatigued. The biggest limit currently is severe hearing loss, to the point that I have been approved for cochlear implant in the next few months. While I’ve been retired from working away from home for several years, I worked as a consultant to non-profits following my retirement. My hearing loss became a problem with phone use, but the other issue is that using my computer makes me dizzy after a short time and increases my tinnitus (sure is a weird disease isn’t it?). My question for you is: does working on line not cause dizziness for you? If it does what are your remedies? I would love to go back to consulting on a part time basis if I could fine a solution to the dizziness .

    • Elizabeth: Thank you for your comments. YES it is truly a weird disease! I wish you great success with the upcoming implants! I do sometimes get dizzy while working on the computer, I’ve found for me that frequently breaking away from the screen is helpful, keeping my screens at eye level (Yes I have two screens) and in order to do this my chair is at its max height (so I use a footstool). I never EVER move quickly or turn quickly in the chair, it’s just not worth missing the rest of the day dealing with vertigo. I drink plenty of mint tea for low grade nausea if I am a little dizzy. But, above all I try to keep my head level. I’ve found that quickly looking up or down can also be a trigger for me. So, learning to touch type is important, or, using a speech recognition software. I too have hearing loss but thankfully only moderate at this time. Best wishes!

  2. Hi Kathy telling me your story was truly an inspiration to me. I had to leave my job of 10 years as an apartment property manager in 2012. I have multiple medical problems Meniere’s disease is one of them I have been dizzy and have this equilibrium and balance problems for as long as I can remember I was also told a lot of this damage could have been from a 1992 car accident where I was hit from behind and my head was smashed into the steering wheel I was not wearing a seatbelt I complained of dizziness 4 years off and on before I actually had to finally leave my job in 2012 I tried to work three years with constant dizziness and balance I have receptionist experience that was actually one of my first jobs I was always told that I have very good phone skills and I would love to be able to just do something a few hours a week from my home but like you said this illness is very unpredictable I have other medical issues cognitive issues and stuff like that would I still qualify for a virtual assistant receptionist job at home? I think that would be very ideal for me. Sorry my messages so long but any information you could provide me I would be very appreciative. I will admit I am now not as computer savvy as I used to be I’m sure so much more technology has come out since I left the workforce but anything you could think of would be great. That was one of the biggest problems when I was fighting for my disability I tried to explain that I can’t commit to a job anymore I can’t commit to set hours 9 to 2 or 3 days a week I never know when my attacks are going to come on but I have dizziness every single day like I’m rocking on a boat. Anyway thank you for your article and any input you can give me I would definitely appreciate it again. I wish you much continued success. Karen

    • Hi Karen, thanks for sharing! While not exactly like a virtual assistant, you might want to check out work from home call center jobs where working on the phone is all you’re doing. Look for something like and be sure they don’t charge you (the contractor) a fee. Or, hit up your former employers to see if they have light work for you. Also, if you got a digital phone service such as RingCentral you could have a company forward their line to you on occasion. Sometimes all they need is someone to take calls while their staff is at lunch or out sick. It’s definately worth looking into and would ease you into the VA world slowly and you could learn more skills at the same time.

      Sometimes all we need is to do a little something to bring our spirits up. Makes a huge difference in our attitudes when we feel useful (speaking from experience!!)

      Best wishes to you and feel free to contact me!

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