The Power of a Single Light

Former Liverpool architect and author of Cancer 4 Me 5

These are troubled times in our world. The likes of which we have not seen for a long time. Almost all of the foundations of our very existence have been affected in some way. Our universal cornerstones of health, politics, trade, climate, travel and social interaction are not functioning as they once did and should. Nothing seems normal anymore.

It would be easy to get downhearted.

When the entire world is in chaos we all need personal stories of inspiration like never before. They show us that even in the blackest of holes, the most amazing chinks of light will still appear. They become the individual shining stars in the vastness of the night sky to prove that complete darkness will never prevail. A catastrophe may be global, but it just takes one human to demonstrate the amazing power of human spirit. 

From a little place in Ireland, I appear to have been handed one of those stories.

19 years ago I was anonymous in the world, and happy to be so. I was working from home in a little town with my wife and family. I had never smoked or been ill. I had run 6 marathons. I was never destined to be writing these words for you all on Gov. Talk.

Then, out of the blue, I began to get headaches.

I was eventually admitted to my local hospital with a suspected sinus infection. I just required a very routine procedure to flush it out. When my consultant arrived at my bed the next day it didn’t take me long to work out something was wrong. The facial expressions were not what they should have been. He told me that when they went in they were shocked to discover one of the worst cases of Head & Neck cancer ever seen. I now had about a month to live.

Very few surgeons in the world, he told me, could even look at a case like mine. But my tumor was so advanced and extensive I would also need a radical radiotherapist. There were very few of them around too. If they did exist, he said and were prepared to treat me, the chances were the surgeon would be in New York, but the radiotherapist would be in Tokyo.

I needed the two of them in one place.  Now! From nowhere, the end of my life had just appeared right in front of me.

I asked him the ultimate question any medical consultant can be asked.

“What would you do if this was you”

He told me he had spent 3 years in what he regarded as a center of excellence for Head & Neck cancer in Liverpool. The people there he said, would be more familiar with the condition I now had. If he was me, he would go to Liverpool.

But he added that he didn’t expect them to say anything different from what he had just told me. My tumor was so severe it was inoperable.

When the entire world is in chaos we all need personal stories of inspiration like never before.


A week later Professor Simon Rogers and David Husband assessed me in Liverpool. In that meeting both of these men also believed I could not survive the devastating surgery that was required, but they didn’t tell me that. They were impressed by my acceptance of where I now was and my fighting spirit. I just wanted a chance. If I was going down, I wanted to be able to go down in the ring with my gloves on. In the end, although they didn’t think I would make it, they both felt they had to give me a shot.

The rest is history!

The problem with serious Head & Neck cancer is the complex treatment required will invariably put you in the grave before the cancer gets to you. The surgery required was going to be so destructive that I if I survived by losing my sight, speech, hearing or brain or physical capacity and lived for a few years it still would have been a huge success.

Survival was all that was on the horizon. And it wasn’t even on the horizon.

But 19 years later I am still here.

My amazing story has now found its way to most corners of the world to encourage many more to come behind me. I get wonderful messages, most days, from cancer patients everywhere telling me what it does for them. There is always hope. I have become the proof of that.

So in these strange times if I need a story to keep me going all I have to do is pull out my own. There is nothing bigger in this world than not being part of it. I should have died, many times, in 2002. Every single day of the last 19 years of my life has been handed to me as an amazing, unexpected, gift.

Very little will faze me after that.

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