This year has been an incredible one for me personally. As the cancer support sector in the UK continues to be dominated by the same organisations, who have little to offer other than fundraising challenges, my focus has turned to the global issues of cancer. I have travelled to places where there is a real determination to improve the lives of people affected by cancer. This despite those countries having nothing like the resources we have, but key to that is the will to improve!
My story has become a beacon throughout the world, not only for the work I do, but for the hope I give. As most of you know, my health was so poor that I was given only six months to live, and now I am into my eleventh year. For many people across the world they see a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, which is very sad because more often it isn’t! But that psyche is very hard to change as it has come down the generations and is cultural. So when I talk at international conferences people want to meet me and know more about how I have survived for so long.
When I was diagnosed in 2007 I had gone from a successful and valued person to just another cancer statistic. I felt like a casualty of war, needing people to look after me 24/7. Reliant on my family and friends and constantly in and out of hospital was a terrible psychological blow. My lack of independence gone at a stroke. There have been some terrible times, where I didn’t believe I would even see the next day. My wife and I have discussed my death so many times, we have even become relaxed about it now.
But all of this period in my life was yet more experience for me to learn from, and I certainly have! Society seemed to turn it’s nose up at me returning to a normal life. Too sick to work regularly and discriminated against everywhere I went because I got cancer. It never surprises me that so many issues of mental health problems are brought on by this disease. I am both physically and mentally tough, but even I have been close to the edge on numerous occasions and still require medication to ensure I sleep.
This experience made me want to improve things for people living with cancer and my life is now changed forever. Learning from the very basic cancer support groups to guest speaker at international conferences, meeting incredible people as I go. Social-media has been an incredible tool for me, and people know about my work across the globe. My work with simPal is another gift, helping under-privileged families with the cost of mobile communication. My ‘experience folder’ is so full that I am now considered an expert, and get invited to many countries to speak. Unfortunately as there is only one of me I am unable to take up many of the offers I receive.
But the big news is that I am delighted to receive an invitation to speak at the World Cancer Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Yes, it was a massive wow from me when I saw it! The largest International cancer conference in the world wants to hear from me. They want me talk about collaboration in the cancer sector, and how it is so important to the work I do. 3500 people attending from every country in the world. This will be the peak of my speaking work, and at 62 I don’t know how long I will be able to continue with travelling and the physical and emotional demands of this work, so to achieve an invitation like this is incredible.
I am telling this story to show who knows what can happen in life? Patience has become one of my great strengths, and I let life happen rather than make too many plans. The fact that my health has stayed constant in recent years has been a bonus and enabled me to focus on what I enjoy. Since cancer, my life has taken very tiny, but forward steps. Now my work is known around the globe by clinicians, charities and politicians. I have won awards and time permitting, there will be a book.
Even I struggle to understand what has taken place since I got cancer, but there is always a very stark reminder as I must attend hospital on a regular basis for ongoing tests. In my life before cancer I always believed in my own ability and despite being a failure at school, I went on to run my own very successful multi million pound business. My confidence has returned and my skills are now well used, and I feel very empowered by my cancer experience. It has taken any fear of failure from me and enables me to achieve things I never could before.
Cancer certainly took much from me, but it has also given so many things I could never imagine. Keep believing and retain your hope as none of us know what tomorrow might bring!!