And who but my lady greensleeves

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my lady greensleeves.

– Traditional

Decades ago when I was a young boy I used to tell my mother that when I was a ‘grown up’ I would buy her a green dress, in honour of her and also of my favourite colour.

I grew up but I never did buy her that dress. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and given a few weeks to live, I penned her a long note on the day I had to say farewell and return to England from New Zealand where she lived.

“I never did buy you that green dress, did I?” I wrote inside a card that featured the beautiful John Waterhouse painting ‘My Sweet Rose’ (below) on its cover, which shows a woman in a green dress smelling a pink rose.


Even today, 15 years on, listening to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves (as indeed I am while I write) makes me unaccountably sad.

The point of this story? Simply that so often we put off doing the most important things in our lives, which instead are all-consumed by the pressures of business and other aspects of daily existence.

Since my own diagnosis with cancer a couple of months back, I have been reminded time and again of what really matters. The love of one’s family and friends; the heartfelt support of colleagues; and the unexpected solidarity of people one barely knows.

One of the most moving of the many anecdotes that people have shared with me came from that great big-hearted man Enrique Urioste of Duty Free Americas, who, though not a deeply religious individual, told me how he and his family had lit a candle every day to support his father-in-law who had cancer. “I don’t know if it had something to do with his recovery but we all believed in it,” he said. Enrique has even lit a candle for me and I have promised not to let down his 100% record of recovery.

When I decided I would go public about my condition, part of my desire was to debunk some of the preconceptions the very word cancer evokes. My experience since has only sharpened that desire.

Cancer is not a single condition. It comes in many forms, and in many degrees of severity. The various treatments – chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery – differ by patient. So do the side-effects. What is not helpful is to be told how bad the chemotherapy must be. It is in fact a magical medical development that is ensuring millions of people recover from this disease that used to kill most of those who suffered from it. Chemotherapy is my potential saviour and I see it in no other terms.

Many people don’t know what to say to a cancer patient (don’t use the term cancer victim). Just “How are you?” or “I am thinking of you” does the job perfectly. All the people (and there are many) in this industry who have suffered from cancer – or been very close to someone who has – have told me that the simplest messages of goodwill, repeated often, are what has helped them the most.

It comes back, as so many things do in life, to the basics. And making sure you buy the person that you love your own equivalent of that green dress – before it’s too late.

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  • Dear Friend Martin;

    Extraordinarily well put, and movingly so. You’re only a victim if you see yourself as one, and as chemo is the means to a cancer free life, then one endures chemo. (maybe you’ll be the lucky one who has the hair PUT BACK on their head after your treatments?)

    Two + years back, when my dad was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, I would sit with him every two weeks during the few hours it took to absorb his brew of medicine. Sometimes we’d talk, sometimes read together but separately, often he’d just nod off and rest. Sometimes, and those times are the ones I remember best, I’d hold his hand and we’d say nothing at all. That was my “green dress!”

    I look forward to seeing you in 6 weeks; hale, hearty and with a head full of New Zealand hair!

    All best wishes, and I’m thinking of you my friend,