Kent Business School’s Dr Joel Montgomery and Brendan Hammond work together within Kent Business School’s Outreach Department.
Weeks into meeting, the duo realised they had both overcome cancer and survived – and thrived – against the odds.
Here, Joel and Brendan share their stories, to mark National Cancer Survivors Day (Sunday 4 June 2023).
‘I try to help students see past the barriers that others have put on them’
Dr Joel Montgomery is Lecturer in Leadership at Kent Business School. He survived Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) as a child.
‘I was 10 when I started experiencing excruciating back pain. Being misdiagnosed with everything from constipation to having neurotic parents, it took an MRI scan months later to show ALL Leukaemia.
This type of Leukaemia has a good prognosis – but I carried the AML gene. A one in 30 million chance, with only 30% of sufferers surviving.
Being transferred to The Royal Marsden for treatment, I was lucky to be assigned a doctor involved in research for ALL. After I had nine months of chemotherapy, her in depth study found it wasn’t effective for my cancer type. She insisted I got a bone marrow transplant and full body radiotherapy. I survived.
As my internal organs were harmed with such a harsh treatment, I faced obstacles everywhere I turned – teachers, friends and even family stopped encouraging my dreams and told me to ‘just do what I could’. It came from a good place, they loved and cared for me and had my wellbeing at heart, but it was really hard to accept.
I’ve always been stubborn – despite missing years of school I got a place at Kent to study BA Politics, went on to do a Master’s in Human Resource Management and took on a PhD, in political motivation of the workplace.
Research could be a lonely place, but it was working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant that I found solace, particularly during lockdown where I was stuck in a tiny flat 24/7.
Earlier this year, I finished my PhD and I’ve since been offered a full time Lectureship at KBS, which I love. I work frequently with the Outreach Department, visiting schools and encouraging young people to further their education.
It was surprising to learn that Brendan had walked a similar path to me. There is power in our shared values and I can rely on him for advice.
I still face many challenges that stem from my treatment – fatigue, a lack of immunity and the general fear of relapse, but Brendan is one of the few people who really understands what this feels like.
Looking back at my life, it is as if things have gone full circle. Because of my diagnosis, I try to help students see past their barriers that others put on them – whether this is gender, poverty, race or something like illness. I am living proof that they can still achieve their ambitions.’
‘I don’t sweat the small stuff – I can offer young people a sense of perspective’
Outreach Officer for KBS Brendan Hammond was diagnosed with a PXA brain tumour in 2017.
‘My diagnosis began with pins and needles in my hands. Six months later the sensations were waking me at night. I had two young children and I put it down to being busy, stressed and run down.
But things escalated when I had an episode in a work meeting. I started to tremor, stopped speaking and colleagues were worried.
Awaiting a referral, I had a huge seizure in my sleep and was transferred to Kings College Hospital where I was diagnosed with a rare pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma tumour (PXA) in my brain.
When you’re first diagnosed, all you can think is the whys – Could I have prevented this? Is it my fault? All of my specialists reassured me that it was unlikely to do with any choices I’d made. From then on, I tried to be pragmatic and take things one day at a time.
Having major brain surgery in early 2018 wasn’t easy, but I walked into the clinic as an air ambulance flew over and remember thinking that things really could have been worse.
The surgery removed 80 to 90 per cent of the tumour. I will take anti-seizure medication for the rest of my life and every September I have a full scan and check-up.
I have two daughters and a loving wife, with them and work keeping me busy, it can be easy to forget what I’ve been through, I feel well, most of the time.
Overcoming cancer, my attitude has changed. I don’t sweat the small stuff. This, I believe, means I can offer young people a sense of perspective, when problems in life can feel overwhelming.
Meeting Joel, I’ve been able to see that he also has this ability. We work well as a team making workshops fun, engaging and successful.
I admire Joel’s resolve and attitude to life which is infectious and I feel privileged to have got to know him and his story.’
Held on the first Sunday in June, National Cancer Survivors Day, is a celebration for all those who have been diagnosed with cancer and, following treatment, have been given the all clear.
By Charlotte North