“Hope In The Face Of Death”

One of my most read blogs is about my great friend Jeremy Marshall who has had an incredible career in banking. I thought it would be great to hear again from this incredible man, so Jeremy has kindly shared more of his thoughts below.

A nice introduction to Jeremy and his work.

Cancer has a habit of upending our lives and making us rethink our priorities. I enjoyed my work career and ended up as CEO of a family owned private bank which was a wonderful place to work. In 2012, I found I had cancer. I went into treatment for six months and was then given the all clear. I went back to work and all was normal . Then in May 2015 at a friends house I went to adjust my collar and felt a huge lump like a golf ball on my collar bone. A few days later I went back to the Royal Marsden. I left the office to get the a scan results and essentially never went back. For I was told: “I’m sorry,  you have tumours everywhere and we can’t cure you..you probably have 18 months to live.. chemotherapy may slow things down” “Fair enough: when should I start ?” “Tomorrow”.

This is my story and yours may be different. I am fortunate in many ways: a very supportive family and work: a long but so far tolerable and successful if ongoing treatment. In 2015, I had to go back from the hospital to the office and say “I’m really sorry, but I need to stop work right now and get urgent treatment”. With immediate effect I was no longer the  boss, used to telling people what to do. Rather I was the patient being told what to do. Since then I’m pleased to say that I am still alive (as you can see!) though I’m not cured. I’ve had 24 chemotherapy treatments and about a dozen operations, some on the cancer and some on my eyes, Typically, I go through chemotherapy for about six months and then have about six months off.

However, without warning my life and my goals have moved into a completely different “track”. In my book “Beyond the Big C” I compare this to being on a comfortable railway journey with the destination marked “enjoyable retirement” . Suddenly, without any warning, there is a sudden wrenching jolt and you are moved onto a completely different line with a very different designation – death. The Grim Reaper has entered the carriage and sits regarding you with a cold eye.

Cancer makes us think  “ What motivates us?” “What matters?” Pre cancer we tend to be motivated (at least in the City of London !) by money. Some may be motivated by other things such as success and happiness and personal fulfillment, but in finance its pretty much the Big £. But when the Big £ meets the Big C there is only one winner. “How much is enough” we used to discuss when I started work in the City  – meaning how much money did we need to save to retire.  Perhaps £1m by aged 40?  But “ Enough is never enough” as the definition of what’s enough for each of us keeps moving ever higher. We adjust our expectations to the people around us, maybe think that purchasing that new car or that new house  will fulfill me. But that’s not true. Cancer explodes this delusion with a deadly abruptness

Cancer exposes a “Destination sickness”: we are obsessed with where we are going and have lost our bearings. Recent market research among Millennial’s produced an interesting study of what defines “success” . Of those surveyed, 80% said “It was to get rich” while 50% said “it was to be get famous.“ Faced with a poor cancer diagnosis both criteria seem  laughable. What is the purpose of life? If the purpose of life is purely career and money what happens when that’s removed by cancer? What we orientate our life towards is what matters I suggest.

We can contrast “CV virtues”  and “eulogy virtues”.  How will you want to be remembered?  Nicholas Parsons who was a well known personality died recently and received fulsome praise on the BBC. It was very interesting to me that the tributes were much more about what kind of person he was  rather than his many show business achievements. I suggest that to be a human being is to above all be relational. We are made to relate to others.

For me, but I appreciate perhaps not most readers of this, we are made above all to relate to God. A writer called Augustine said “We carry our mortality about with us..You make us react, so that praising you brings us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Thats certainly how I feel. I feel the presence of God with me as I remember Jesus’s promises “I will never leave you or forsake you” or “Look,  I am with you always, even to the very end of the age”. Now,  if you have no faith then I suggest that thinking relationally can still be helpful: relational with families and relational with our community.

The two things I am most wanting to spend whatever time I have left are helping people through charity work and enjoying my family. I particularly enjoy advising charities such as the Institute for Cancer Research or the  Woodland Trust. When I am feeling up to it, i find it invigorating to  think of how to help others through improved cancer research or by  planting more trees. When I see people like the wonderful Chris Lewis selflessly dedicating themselves to helping fellow cancer sufferers, I feel encouraged too. (I even can overlook his support for Crystal Palace: you would think he and I – a Watford fan – have enough suffering already without adding more!) ”

I would like to thank Jeremy for generously sharing some of his personal thoughts and views with us. He has also very kindly donated some of his books for me to give away. If you would like one please just write “yes please in the comments below and I will contact you for your address. (It will automatically show me your email address privately!)


    • Hi Heather, sorry to be a pain but your mail address hasn’t shown for some reason. Could you please let me have it? Thanks, Chris

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