gift_of_lifeA variety of routes exist that will take you from anonymity to being noteworthy. Most will travel by way of exceptional achievements in business or politics or sport or entertainment. In my case, the route was a little different. It selected me, rather than I choose it.

12 years ago I was very much minding my own business in the world. I was an architect in a little town in Ireland. I was never destined to one day be asked to write a blog for Careers in Government.

I had never been ill. I had run 6 marathons.

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

Over two days at my local hospital a suspected routine sinus infection dramatically transformed into one of the worst Head & Neck cancer tumours ever seen.  My consultant told me I was the second worse case he had ever seen. The worst case was dead in a month. Very few hospitals in the world, he told me, could offer any hope to a case like mine.

The end of my life just appeared right in front of me.  I simply had weeks to live.

Eventually, impressed by my fighting spirit, Professor Simon Rogers and his team in Liverpool decided to offer me a chance. But even there, they didn’t believe I would make it. They wouldn’t tell me that so they told me I had a 5% chance.  The problem with serious Head & Neck cancer is the complex treatment required will generally put you in the grave before the cancer gets to.  If I was still alive after surgery I was likely to be without my sight, my speech, my hearing, my mobility, my brain function or any combination of all five.

Survival was all that was on the horizon. Anything beyond that would be a bonus.

None of that mattered then. I just wanted to be alive. If I was alive I was winning, and cancer was losing.

I underwent a huge 12 hour operation. They told me it was as big as surgery comes. It was followed by 7 weeks of radical chemo-radiotherapy but in between I got meningitis and a deep vein thrombosis. Both of these nearly killed me by themselves.  By the end of 2002 I simply had no business still being alive, but somehow, I was.

All of that was 12 years ago. My amazing survival has now been outdone by my even more incredible recovery. I am working, talking, running and functioning again just as I did before. Apart from my eyepatch, it is almost as if I never had cancer. My consultants are simply amazed. Through their great work I have become one of the greatest cancer survivors of all time.

From nowhere, I have become noteworthy.

In 2012, on the tenth anniversary, I wanted closure to the amazing survival and recovery element of this story. To achieve this I ran my first marathon, post-cancer and I wrote a book. I wrote the book, not just for cancer patients but for anybody who has a mountain to climb.

I have become the living proof that nothing is for certain.  I have been given a second life and with it comes an opportunity to encourage and inspire.

I have now had responses to this story from all over the world. The greatest say “I was giving up, until I read your story”. When I speak in public I like to offer not just inspiration, but perspective too. I remind everybody that the lost account can be replaced, the crashed car can be repaired, even the prison sentence can be served. I ask them to watch the news again only this time swop roles with the man in the war zone who comes home to find his wife and four children blown up or the woman who finds her entire village washed away by a tsunami.

They are the real heroes.

The longer I live the more I believe very little really matters. It won’t matter where you lived, who you knew or what you had. What will matter is what you did.  When my time does come I want to be able to say this amazing story came to me and I did not, not do something with it. I tried to use it to show everybody of how lucky we really are. To demonstrate how easily we forget what it truly means to be alive and well.

I have been given a chance to live again so that I can die better.

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