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‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” he said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
– Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm (with a mild edit)
You’ll excuse the blurred image (the photographer had the camera on the wrong setting) but I think you’ll agree it’s worth reproducing.
It’s of me yesterday with Professor David Cunningham, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Head of the Gastrointestinal Unit at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London’s Fulham Road. Professor Cunningham is the man who saved my life four years ago after I developed stomach cancer. The man who gave me shelter from the storm.
I revere this gentle yet tough, dry-witted Scot and am still in awe of him every time we meet. I know this may sound silly but when he put his arm around me (pictured) I felt safe. Our first meeting back in 2010 was a very different affair. Then I felt anything but safe. Back then the storm was raging. There was no small talk. It was all about business. The business of survival.
Next week I’m due to speak at food & beverage operator OTG’s annual partners’ conference in the Bahamas (yes, I get all the bad breaks, I know). Chairman Rick Blatstein has long been a great supporter of The Moodie Report and The Foodie Report, always agreeing to speak at our events (and being a star turn every time) so when he asked me to give a keynote address at his own conference, I readily agreed.
As thanks, and as I had not requested a fee, Rick kindly offered to make a donation to a charity of my choice. Given that I was about to attend the Royal Marsden for my six-monthly check-up, its in-house charity seemed a natural choice.
The Royal Marsden is a world-leading cancer centre specialising in cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education. Every penny donated to its research arm is well spent. The Royal Marsden’s work has included some of the most pioneering, breakthrough studies into the disease and saved countless lives. Mine included.
In late 2013 The Moodie Report Foundation presented a cheque for £124,000 (US$202,000) to Professor Cunningham to fund a vital cancer research study into genetic sequencing. Yesterday’s cheque for US$2,500 was not in the same league yet was once again hugely appreciated by him. “It all helps enormously,” he told me. “Please do not under-rate any donation.”
[With Professor David Cunningham in December 2013]
He also told me something else. Four-and-a-half years on from that sombre day of 9 June 2010 when my life changed forever, I was once more “all clear”. “One more blood test in six months and we’ll ship you out of here,” he said warmly (at five years you become a statistic, a ‘survivor’).
It was good news of course but you don’t feel euphoria at the Marsden. Ever. You don’t whoop and holler when you get outside. You feel relief and you feel blessed. And as you walk out through the waiting room and along the corridors and you look into other patients’ and families’ faces you feel empathy. For everyone in this place is here for one reason, because of cancer, a bully of a disease, an epidemic of our times.
Some are being diagnosed, some are being treated (with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery). Some are being told they are dying. Some, like me, are being told they are making it or have made it through the storm.
I always take a deep breath as I walk down the stairs outside the Marsden (pictured below). I look back and I invariably take a photo. I look up towards the windows of the wards where I battled for my life that far-off winter ago. I think of the gruelling sights I saw; the ravaging treatment I and many others went through, are going through; the fear I felt; the loneliness of waking in the dark alone; the young, wonderful Irish nurse called Louise Cusack who held my hand for half an hour in the middle of the night while I sobbed big large, gulping tears and told her in my morphine-ridden confusion that I “knew” I was dying; and, not least, the care, love and friendship I encountered.
To this day, I find it easier to write about the experience than to talk about it. Yet I am glad that I have the thoughts I describe above. Because it means I will never, can never, forget, and will always strive to help the fight against this disease.
I know that others are going through that whole gamut of experiences right now. The storm is blowing full-force. If there is a god (and I don’t know any longer whether there is in this damn, troubled, mean-spirited, greedy and often evil world), I thank him and I pray that others too will be delivered.
Two good men and true that I know well in travel retail are just embarking on roads that will be long and difficult, but which will ultimately lead to safety. The good care they are receiving will be directly linked to the research work being conducted by The Royal Marsden and numerous other wonderful institutes around the world. Cancer is being beaten, more and more often. It can and will be defeated entirely. The battle against the beast has turned irrevocably in mankind’s favour. Further funding will ensure that the whole war is eventually won and that all will one day receive shelter from this terrible storm.
[If this Blog resonates with you, perhaps you would donate to The Royal Marsden Charity by clicking on this link or to another research institution or cancer cause.]