Sitting hearing Gareth Southgate being interviewed on the opening day of the 2022 World Cup he made me think when he said a lot had changed in the football world since the previous tournament in 2018.
I started to think about the changes in my life as well. In 2018 I was fit healthy (and somewhat fatter) and was fully familiar (or so I thought) with cancer terminology as I was constantly at meetings with oncologists in relation to treatment for my sister Harriette who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and who very sadly passed away in June 2019.
For a number of years I had helped my sister and her husband explore treatment plans, researching tumour markers and sadly became all too familiar with a lot cancer-related terminology. Little did I know what was going on inside my own body. People like me don’t get cancer – or so I thought!
Over the past three years I have talked at length in public and written articles about my experience being treated successfully for bowel cancer during the pandemic, albeit an incredibly lonely experience being in recovery after surgery for two weeks when visitors were not allowed to see me in hospital. These days, most of the questions I receive are about how my life has changed since then.
When I first returned to work following a prolonged absence I wrote on LinkedIn about my “near death“ experience. I took a conscious decision to be open and honest and, frankly, slightly graphic to ensure that nobody was embarrassed when talking to me or asking questions about that awkward word CANCER.
The reaction I received was overwhelming. In the space of a week the post had over 22,000 reactions followed by comments and messages from people I had not and never will meet thanking me for talking about my experience as they were going through something similar and found it incredibly lonely because they did not know how to talk about it.
It made me realise that most middle-aged men were shy about discussing personal health matters. As a result, I have made it my mission to be a mouthpiece for my cancer experience in the hope that by sharing my story I can continue to be of benefit others.
It seems there’s quite an appetite for a public discussion, and I have been invited to appear on SKY News, the BBC, including alongside the sadly much missed bowel health campaigner the late Deborah James, as well as numerous radio stations and newspapers.
After returning to work and continuing my recovery I was able for the first time in many years take a step back and reflect deeply on what was important in my life, and as importantly, what was not.
After 30 years of corporate life, I questioned for the first time whether this was something I wanted to continue to do the end of my working life. Yes, the rewards and prestige were fantastic and the work stimulating but the long days and demanding schedules with was something I had begun to dwell on for some time even before I was ill.
With the love and support and backing of my wife Stef I started from that very moment to plan my exit from the global firm where I’d had worked extremely hard for almost 20 years.
Since leaving, I have now set up a new business with a partner and clients. My aim is to spend my time working with on stimulating projects with colleagues and clients I know well, respect and trust.
What’s critical is that this allows me time to undertake a number of other roles ranging from being on the Governing Council of a school, fronting the annual appeal for The Royal Free Hospital (who I owe a debt for saving my life), acting as a media spokesman for two national cancer charities and as a trustee for a number of other charities . My new approach allows me time to give something back and make a difference now that I have a second chance.
Just as importantly my experience has helped me realise the value and how fortunate I am to have such a close group of family and friends. They were so important both when I was ill but also during my recovery period, especially the love and support of great friends and family gave to my wife and two children especially when I had my two weeks in ITU and recovery with no visitors allowed.
It took a major event in my life and the real possibility of its loss to make me realise how lucky I was. I learned I had a choice in that I could either become a victim of cancer or use it to my benefit and take control of my destiny. Let’s hope Gareth Southgate’s team does the same!
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