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And so we close out another year. On an industry level it has been a typically fascinating12 months. On a personal level it has involved a momentous journey. You will excuse therefore the intimacy of this final Blog of 2011.
One year ago to this day I was just commencing my final three weeks of chemotherapy, the culmination of my treatment for stomach cancer. I was weak, emaciated, constantly nauseous, clinging on basically, in the knowledge that it would all soon be over and that some sort of normal service might shortly be resumed.
That ‘normal’ would take many twists and turns. Like an injured rugby player desperate to return to the fray, I rushed back too soon, with predictably unfortunate results. Five days out of chemo I fronted an industry conference in a former airport hangar in Manchester.
I was not ready, physically nor emotionally. I still cringe at the memory and silently thank a couple of very special (and unexpected) people who saw me through some dark and fragile moments there.
It was January in northern England and outside it was cold. Bitterly cold. Inside, though, it was supposed to be warm. I recall standing on stage making my opening remarks and starting to shiver.
Embarrassingly, my nose started to drip as I spoke. Like many chemotherapy patients I felt the cold intensely – I was used to wearing six or seven layers but here, suddenly, I was back to a business shirt, suit and tie. It’s just the chemo, I assured myself on stage, racing through my words.
I got through the speech but by now was shaking with cold. Was it just me? I noticed members of the audience, too, looking none too warm.
The reason soon became apparent. For the first time in the facility’s history the heating had failed. It took the hosts several hours to get it working again. Faced by crisis we resorted to that perennial airport favourite – airline blankets.
“Someone up there really doesn’t like me,” I remember thinking.
We survived. With a commendable ‘blitz’ mentality among the delegates, and heating eventually restored, the event, against all odds, was a success.
A couple of weeks later I continued my uncertain comeback trail in Bangkok at The Trinity Forum. This time I lasted only as long as the first morning, before succumbing to a cripplingly painful bowel blockage (a common complication post-stomach removal, caused by constricting scar tissue) and being hospitalized for a week with the fear, ignominy and discomfort of a nasogastric tube in place. I guess this is as low as I got throughout a bleak period in my life.
For several days I faced the prospect of an operation and weeks of recovery in a foreign country if what the medics called this ‘conservative’ treatment did not clear the problem. Fortunately it did, thanks to the superb team at Bangkok’s Bumrumgrad International Hospital.
[The Moodie Report’s Bumrungrad Bureau in Bangkok]
By night six, I was surreptitiously sipping a little (make that a lot on one occasion) Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc to bring relief from my dreary water diet. Hey, it’s only grapes and water, right? As recommended for every hospital patient. Who am I to argue?
At times my hospital room resembled a Trinity Forum in miniature as countless delegates dropped in to see me. Jonathan Holland, Stuart McGuire, Jane Grant, Sunil Tuli, Rakhita Jayawardena and David King barely left my side. Colm and Breeda McLoughlin and Dan Cappell too.
Some slept or stood by my side through the night. Amigos all. My own team, of course. James Richardson’s’ Garry Stock turned up with enough flowers to stock a chain of florists. Susan Whelan of King Power and her partner Robbie Gill (The Design Solution) were like brother and sister to me, nothing was too much trouble for them. Even when I needed some Cloudy Bay… no, that would be giving away secrets.
The King Power team, from Chairman Vichai Raksriaksorn and his number two Chulchit Bunyaketu to the incredible management and staff at Pullman Bangkok King Power (please, make it your hotel of choice in Bangkok, you won’t find better), looked after me as if I was a chosen son.
Constant visits from industry friends to the hospital. Too many to mention all the names (sorry, my memory is so blurred of the time I can barely recall some visitors). I was upset to see them upset. Let me reverse Dickens’ phrase and call it the worst of times, the best of times. Never did I see so much goodness in people.
Medical crisis over, I recall vividly heading back to the King Power Hotel a week after The Trinity Forum had ended. Everyone had long gone. I remembered the words of the Melanie Safka song, ‘Leftover Wine’:
What do you do when the people go home?
And what do you do when the show is all done?
I know what I’ll do in the alone of my time
But what will I do with the leftover wine?
I had to wait another week before I was given clearance to fly. It could have been a horrible, lonely time but the King Power team made it an unforgettable few days for me and my Kiwi pal Barry, a mate since secondary school, who flew over to ensure I was ok. In the blink of history that is one’s lifetime, such moments are to be cherished.
And then. One day back in London and the same terrible onslaught of the same crippling pains. Another day, another blockage, another week in hospital – but this time necessitating an operation, back at my old haunt The Royal Marsden Hospital.
The terrible feeling of déjà vu, back in intensive care in a cancer hospital, hallucinating once more in the night due to the painkillers, cowering from the spiders on the wall, yelling for the nurse, terrified.
I recall a dear, dear school friend of mine from New Zealand coming to visit me there. She hadn’t seen me since 1987 and we both braced as our eyes met. I was fearful of her reaction to my wasted, weary appearance; she was desperate not to reveal it. Tough times. The doctors told me there was every chance these blockages would recur.
Life as I knew it, led by so much international travel, something I loved, seemed nigh impossible. No way, though, was I going to accept that. Hey, there was a Rugby World Cup due in New Zealand in October and everyone knew the Cup was coming home…
And then. And then…
April 3, 2011: “There’s no disease in your body as far as we can tell.”
The words came from my oncologist’s perennially sympathetic assistant Toni. She was calling just after the first of regular six-monthly scans I will face (hopefully) over the next five years, before I am declared officially ‘in remission’ from cancer.
My life changed that day. Although relief rather than euphoria was my reaction at the time, the news gave me the strength to battle the more mundane, yet in some ways more daunting, challenge of the post-surgical bowel blockages. If I could take on the bullying beast that is cancer and win, I reasoned, then surely I could beat more banal medical complications.
No more self pity. It was time for self help. Intensive reading followed. A fantastic nutritionist said she could assist and did. Someone told me to chew my food 25 times to compensate for the lack of stomach. Amazingly, it worked. Nine months on since the last complication and I have seldom felt better.
Another ‘all clear’ in November (incredibly after one month in New Zealand living the Rugby World Cup dream with John and Karl Sutcliffe, Colm and Breeda McLoughlin, Jonathan Holland and various New Zealand mates, they even said my liver was functioning perfectly) and life seems good. Business is good and I am bursting with new ideas for 2012. Life is rich. And goddamn it, the All Blacks even won the World Cup…
[An impromptu scrum is formed to celebrate World Cup victory over the French. Spot the three Irishmen in with the kiwis.]
[With the Irish knocked out of the tournament, Breeda McLoughlin starts to support the Kiwis in New Zealand]
[World Cup deliverance at last]
But it all remains fragile. And therefore to be cherished. As I write, a close industry friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She will survive, I know, but she has a fight on her hands. And we all know others who do too. This disease is undiscerning in the brutality of its selection process. The past year may have spared me but it has claimed countless others.
So to close, and in wishing all our readers a happy, joyous, loving and most of all healthy 2012, I take pleasure in relating an e-mail I received on the eve of my operation last October from Lynn Arce, an amazing woman who heads DFS’s Global Creative and Consumer Marketing. I was scared and it gave me strength. It will stay with me forever. It read:
I could quote a zillion things from all of the books that we have read but one that I think is most appropriate is from Winnie the Pooh which I’m sure you’ve shared with your kids. The excerpt is as follows:
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw, “I just wanted to be sure of you.””
I’m sure of you Martin. I’m sure of you.
As this year draws to a close, think about those you love. And be sure of them.
[With Colm McLoughlin in New Zealand, finishing the year in much better shape than I started it]