Staring down the barrel of a gun

Fetola mentor, Kevan Wright, talks about his struggle with pancreatic cancer and what this journey taught him about business and life.

A wave crashing down
By Kevan Wright

We asked Fetola mentor, Kevan Wright, to share the lessons he learned during his journey overcoming pancreatic cancer. This is his story:

Almost a year ago to this day I stared at the doctor in total disbelief as he pronounced a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This surely couldn’t be true – I was always so fit and healthy and having returned from a surf trip in Bali only two weeks prior, I was feeling on top of the world! With no family history of cancer, I was in total denial.

Kevan before surgery

Kevan before surgery

This was a huge thing to digest, raising all sorts of thoughts and debates in my head. I’ve always respected the saying “You never know how you’ll react until you’re staring down the barrel of a gun”, which I always associated with victims of war and violent crime, but this scenario was now a reality for me. Very scary!

The emotions of shock and fear are typical and to be expected in scenarios like this. However, for me the most overpowering emotion was absolute appreciation of my life as it is on this beautiful planet, surrounded by its beautiful people, my purposeful career, and my lifestyle in general. I was certainly not ready to leave this wonderful life for anything else – no matter how good it may be and wherever that may be. As the old saying goes, “Heaven can wait!”

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and requires a swift intervention, starting with major surgery to partially remove my pancreas, as well as my gallbladder, duodenum, and bile duct. My digestive tract was then “re-wired” with what was left. This alone was terrifying, considering the 5% fatality rate experienced with this seven-hour procedure. Furthermore, the quoted medium and long-term survival statistics relating to pancreatic cancer were certainly not weighted in my favour. The surgery was followed by six months of chemotherapy, three weeks of radiotherapy, and now a second round of chemotherapy. Not for the faint-hearted!

Kevan after surgery

Kevan after surgery

I had to accept the truth and deal with it accordingly. It started with a very positive attitude that I would not allow this setback to get the better of me. I would do everything in my power to beat this.

Yes, there are countless stories of people who’ve had this approach, but it is often very hard to follow, specifically during the times of severe emotional distress that a cancer diagnosis can cause. So, what did I do differently?


Fortunately, I’m a naturally positive “glass half full” type of person, but I also needed to remove all negativity and doubt from my life. This entailed not being consumed by things beyond my control (e.g. negative news, corrupt politicians, fearmongering, bad drivers, crime statistics, the turbulent economy, etc). Yes, one can’t be an ostrich and ignore these things as we need to be aware of what’s happening around us, but one mustn’t become consumed by factors that are not under our direct control. We need to rather focus on what we can control. I was constantly seeking out positivity and identifying potential opportunities, which are in abundance if we just change our attitudes.

So, I asked myself the question, “How do I turn this devastating setback into something positive and a potential business opportunity?”. The answer, which came to me quickly, was to enlighten and empower others to improve their business and personal lives through sharing my story and the valuable lessons I’ve learned.


I have lived a full, active, and extremely enjoyable life and so many children and others far less fortunate than me never get the chance. This realisation led me to take on a different perspective and seek reasons why I still needed more time on this planet. I wanted to add value to those in need, offer my help, and share my story. In other words, an attitude of “What can I give?” as opposed to “What do I deserve?”.

This aptly refers to the “entitlement culture”, which is currently a global trend and not limited to South Africa. My career as a coach, mentor, and facilitator is built on a foundation of giving and not for the sole purpose of personal reward. Yes, the reward will come and is certainly important, but it should be viewed as a result, rather than the purpose of the work.


I needed to take accountability for my own healing. One of the most difficult and frustrating challenges on this journey is inadequate access to relevant information – whether it is insufficient, conflicting, confusing or just plain terrifying. Furthermore, the medical profession often doesn’t subscribe to the many alternative treatments available and the alternative practitioners are totally scathing towards the medical and pharmaceutical professions. This is usually a very frustrating situation, especially when one’s life is dependent on the decisions we make and we often get bullied by fear into a decision that we’re not totally comfortable with.

The only solution for me was to take personal accountability for my health by engaging both the medical and alternative worlds and do as much research as possible to empower me so I could decide what would be best for me. I decided to embrace both approaches and throw everything at it, but that was my personal choice and not necessarily a recommendation. We all need to make our own choices that resonate with our own convictions.


I did everything in my power to fight this disease, which entailed a holistic approach (appropriate medication, healthy diet, physical fitness, mental attitude, spiritual convictions, and support from family and friends). I also used all resources at my disposal – my personal network, following inspirational people, engaging with fellow survivors, reading, and research to further empower myself to make effective decisions. This has helped to relieve stress as I were comfortable with my decisions.

I’ve also added motivational speaking to my services portfolio, which resonates with all four points mentioned above, where I share my personal journey, lessons learned and how they can benefit every aspect of our business and personal lives.

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About the Author

Kevan is an accredited business coach and trainer. His primary focus lies in performance coaching, where he assists individuals and teams to elevate their workplace performance both for personal satisfaction and company growth. Kevan has had a diverse and successful career that ranged from sales and management to leadership positions, both within the corporate environment and his own businesses.

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