Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Some things are difficult to keep under your hat

28 July, 2015 - 18:51 -- John Burton

One of the many challenges of having cancer is actually telling people that you have it. It’s difficult to keep it under your hat, and announcing it sounds almost attention seeking. Having said that, a cancer diagnosis does have an impact on one’s public life. Absences do need explaining - and friends rightly get upset if you haven’t told them.

So, to cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with cancer in April, and thanks to a brilliant National Health Service, five weeks later I was being discharged from hospital minus a chunk of my large colon.

I thought I could get back to normal pretty fast, and a few weeks later I was indeed back at my desk at World Land Trust (WLT). But then the tonne of (metric) bricks fell on me. I was told that there is a risk that the cancer will recur and that I will have to undergo a course of chemotherapy to prevent a recurrence.

One complication of chemotherapy is that during the course, you must avoid going anywhere where you might pick up an infection. This rules out my using public transport and my plans to visit WLT’s new project, El Pantanoso in Argentina (taking potential donors to the project as well), followed by the WLT symposium for 20 of our partners in Mexico in October, are now on hold.

The good news is that WLT has now developed and grown (both physically and in terms of capacity and resilience). This is just as well, as until March 2016, even visiting London for meetings is pretty well off limits, and there is a risk that the chemotherapy will knock me about a bit. While I am out of the office, Viv Burton, WLT’s Deputy Chief Executive and co-founder, will hold the reins, and others will take on some of the many roles that I perform as Chief Executive.

The really positive way of looking at what could be seen as a setback, is to realise it is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to innovate, by using technology in particular, and to look at new ways of solving old problems. Skype and video conferencing are an obvious, though not 100 per cent satisfactory solution, but there will be other ways to manage the situation.  

And while we are on the subject of cancer, I would like to draw readers’ attention to a truly inspirational film made on behalf of WLT by one of our supporters, Kamila Zahno. In the film Kamila talks honestly and unflinchingly about the impact of cancer on her life and how she has come to terms with what the future holds. Watch it and be moved.


Submitted by Kamila Zahno on

thanks John for mentioning me. You may be able to travel when your white blood cells are on the up which can be half or more of your chemo cycle. Must admit I went about on the tube regardless but avoided the theatre and football matches - and hugging all and sundry!! But hugging the dog is allowed! Ask your consultant if there's a time you're less at risk. Anyway good luck with your course. I will be thinking of you.

Submitted by John on

Thanks for the very positive advice Kamila. And thanks for everything you are doing on bahalf of WLT

Submitted by Gil Child on

Dear John, Like you I have been fit, strong and active all my life until 18 months ago when an irregular heart rhythm (AF) slowed me down although I am often out in my woodland with binoculars and enjoy life with family and friends. My thoughts and good wishes are with you as you journey through treatment towards recovery.

Submitted by Jayant Sarnaik on

Dear John, It takes lot of courage to make particularly this illness public. I truly admire you for that. Courage is positively contagious and a big plus in most difficult situations. I wish you a fast recovery and I am sure your thoughts will be inspirational as always.

Submitted by John on

It was great to hear from Gil: a supporter of the WLT from its inception, and a long standing Trustee, whose experience was invaluable. We are all getting older and wearing out -- but we have some great younger people coming along, so perhaps there is some hope for the future of the wildlife that we all love so much

Submitted by David Christie on

I missed you at the Birdfair, John, but now I know why. If I know you, and I do, you'll be back in the saddle before long. The world needs you, so I'll be thinking positive thoughts for you.

Submitted by John on

Thanks for the comment Dave, and to all the other messages from friends at the BirdFair. I gather it was best BirdFair ever. But no question, I'll be back next year!

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