At the start of this year, James Fairweather was looking forward to a retirement spent cycling, running, playing golf and enjoying time with his first grandchild. A fit and healthy 61-year-old, he’d had a long and illustrious career in finance and social investment, becoming part of the Big Issue family in 2015, as chief executive of Big Issue Invest – the social investment arm of Big Issue Group.
James was celebrating his birthday in Mallorca with friends and family when he realised something was wrong. His balance was off, and by the end of the holiday he wasn’t even confident enough to hold his granddaughter.
On May 17 he flew back to the UK. One week later, his life changed forever. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer with an average life expectancy of 12 months. He and his wife Mary tell The Big Issue they want to use their experience to shine a light on an under-researched and under-funded disease.
James: ‘I used to drive an Audi Q3. I now have an electric wheelchair’
I’m very target-orientated. This year, my target was to get my golf handicap down to 15. I took a series of lessons, and at the end of February I was playing to a 15 handicap. I was really looking forward to the first tournament. I went out and was 20 shots worse than my previous scoring in February. I was completely disgusted, so I played again. I was about 25 shots worse. So, I had an indication in March that my balance wasn’t quite what it should be.
In May, I went out to Mallorca for my birthday celebration. I had 10 days’ cycling, running and golfing with friends. My golf was a disaster. I fell off my bike in Palma. I was coming in from running with blood over my left ankle because my right foot was rubbing against it. I gradually noticed that I was unable to feel confident holding my granddaughter. Then at the airport, I couldn’t grip the tickets for the flight.
I lost my independence on June 2. That’s how long it takes to completely close your life down. The paralysis set in, so I have very limited movement on my right side. I used to drive an Audi Q3. I now have an electric wheelchair and a Motability scooter. Surreal doesn’t really cover it. I’m 61, I was 65 kilos. I was fit and healthy. I love good, fresh food. I haven’t abused my body. And it has completely devastated my life. Over the course of the last four or five years, I’ve been unwinding my non-executive roles to retire. I was looking forward to winding down. I’m passionate about gardening. I love fresh air, cycling, walking. I’m a very average golfer. I was looking forward to all of those things.