Fleur Marks Is Happy, Successful And Dying
This is her story.
She was at the top of her game, managing and transforming large multinational clients in her role at WPP AUNZ. In a fast-paced, high-stress industry Marks knew something had to give, but kept ignoring the signs.
Eventually, one of her most valuable assets gave way.
At the age of 39, Marks was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes and other parts of the body -- primarily the lungs.
Without warning Marks' focus went from managing brands to managing her energy and from ignoring her health to it becoming an all consuming focus.
"Letting go of the old Fleur and embracing the new Fleur [was a real challenge] and being limited by your body was huge for me," Marks told ten daily.
"Managing my energy everyday, where as before I really didn't need to think about anything like that and I can't do what I used to do and I've never had those limits before."
The treatment was harrowing, especially in the knowledge that there was no cure for the illness.
Now at 47, Marks has endured 30 months of transfusions and 23 rounds of chemotherapy simply to manage the disease. One of her hardest times was at the end of 2017, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"When I got diagnosed with cancer, that was a real low moment because I had already gone through 30 monthly infusions that had exhausted me... so much of me just wanted to give up."
But true to her fighter's sprint she didn't.
To beat the cancer, treatment for the sarcoidosis had to be halted, which meant once the cancer radiation had ended, her condition, autoimmune-wise, had deteriorated.
After months of recovery, the cancer was gone and Marks was in remission for sarcoidosis, but earlier this year she was told the disease had spread to her brain.
Now, the disease is terminal and she is slowly dying.
"Because I have been so immune suppressed, cancer just kind of creeps in because you've got nothing to fight it with," Marks said.
"It gets a bit tricky managing two diseases. I have failed all treatments for autoimmune diseases... and the treatments I am on now are very much guesses that are there specifically for my disease."
Having a "silent illness" is part of what makes living with an autoimmune disease so hard, Marks told ten daily.
"If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, 'but you don't look sick' I could have retired. What it does is it kind of diminishes that it is really happening because I do present well, but I've got an invisible illness," she said.
"I have actually found my main disease harder to manage than cancer because first of all there is less support, there is no cure and not a lot of research. When you have cancer people go 'oh my god' -- there is a lot of empathy."
Since her diagnosis with sarcoidosis, before cancer and in her life after cancer, Marks acknowledges she worked herself to sickness, and has since made it her mission to ensure workplaces and employees nurture wellbeing.
The principle of coming to work as your "whole-self" is central to this.
"I knew I was running out of time so I knew I had to live fully," she said.
"I learnt the whole self-leadership principle and I realised that ultimately I am the only person that can take care of me."
She created a new role at WPP AUNZ as the Wellbeing and Talent Development Director to establish a self-compassion and self-leadership program for employees and workplaces to nurture productivity. This has grown dramatically and is now integrated into 80 companies.
"The other thing we talk about is that work life balance is a bit of a fallacy. It's really about work life integration -- being able to show up to work as a whole person," Marks said.
"We look at how can you create a work life where you can come to work a whole person but also have a life outside of work."
Her own experiences of working herself to sickness is the perfect motivator to spread her message -- listen to your body and do not ignore it when it's under stress.
Marks said despite all that has happened, she is happier than she has ever been. When she struggles with the toll her illness takes, she spends time in nature, at a spin class at the gym, or with her husband Peter and her two teenage children.
"I am probably the sickest I have ever been but I'm probably the happiest I've ever been which is kind of ironic in itself. I think the more I have owned my story and what has happened and accepted it... that's made it easier for me to be more open about it."
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