Ad Exec With Cancer, Given 'Two Weeks To Live,' Is Blogging His Life Lessons And Regrets

mike hughes the martin agency

For almost two decades, Mike Hughes has had to come to terms with his own mortality. 

The Martin Agency president was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1990s.

Back in January, he was given “two weeks to live” by his doctors, but he’s fighting on.

“When I got my diagnosis and was told there was an 85 per cent chance I’d be dead within five years — I needed to make choices about both personal and business things,” Hughes told the graduating class at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010 — the year a building at VCU’s advertising and marketing school was renamed in his honour, he was named one of the 50 most influential creative thinkers in Creativity magazine, and was inducted into The One Club’s creative hall of fame.

Hughes has continued to be active in the advertising community, even responding positively to younger people from small shops’ requests to grab coffee and learn about the industry.

He has also began a blog called “Unfinished Thinking” and a sister blog to chronicle his battle with cancer.

Poignant, heartbreaking, and inspiring, Hughes discusses facing death his wife Ginny’s fight with cancer (although she was recently told she is in complete remission), regrets, life lessons, and celebration of life. 

Martin Agency chief creative officer Joe Alexander also created a tribute website for Hughes called “We All Love Mike” complete with pictures of his life, celebrations of his creative work, and messages from his peers.

We have compiled his blog post on regrets in the industry and some of the life lessons he learned with pictures of his journey as an agency and family man.

I'm supposed to die tomorrow. Hope not. Two weeks ago, the doctors gave me two weeks to live. I'm pretty sure they'll be proven wrong. In fact, I'm actually making plans now for next week. !!! A friend now in Ethiopia is planning to get here the end of next week. I told him to get here as soon as possible because I might have a funeral I have to attend at the end of the week. (Some people love that kind humour. Others, not so much.)

Yesterday I opened my briefcase for the first time since December. I pulled out papers and notes that were reminders to me of projects I'll never get to now. I quickly tossed most of the papers into the recycling bin. I'm surprised how sad this little exercise made me. These projects had nagged at me when they were alive, but now I was sorry I was abandoning them. They still seemed worth doing.

I get a little uneasy thinking about legacies. George Washington had a legacy. Martin Luther King had a legacy. I'm just an advertising guy … When John and I inherited the company, one of our main and much-discussed goals was to one day leave the agency in better shape than it was then. We have succeeded. We also wanted to leave talented, inspiring leaders in charge. We're succeeding there, too–in spades.

For long-term happiness, enable short-term successes. We work in advertising. We expect to see the fruits of our labour out in the real world within a few months, weeks or days of their creation. If we had patience, we'd be architects. No matter how successful he or she has been, every person with a long career in this business has gone through painful stretches of a year or more in which nothing was produced. ... Creative companies need the room to fail occasionally, but failure is exhausting and debilitating when it's not buffered by successes.

My friends know that I avoid parties whenever possible, but even I know victories should be celebrated.

Staff meetings should be entertaining.

We'll do better work and we'll do it more enthusiastically if we do it with friends.

It's the responsibility of every person at the agency to bring joy to work at least four days a week. (We all have bad days.)

By the way, make the fun visible to the people around you.

Friends tease each other in affectionate, public ways. That kind of banter can reduce tension for everyone.

One note: don't leave anyone out. The etiquette for teasing women is still a little different than for teasing men, but don't ignore the woman in the room just because she's not as ripe a target as, say, Earl Cox or me. There's a bias that accrues from making the men always the centre of attention.

As you approach your final days, it's incumbent on you to review your regrets. I'm pretty sure that's one of the rules.

For example, I think I'm supposed to regret the many nights I missed family dinners or family weekends because I was working ...

I do have those regrets — kind of — especially since the last couple of months with Ginny, Jason's family and Patti have been such potent reminders of how meaningful those times can be.

I certainly hate remembering the times my long hours hovered menacingly over my marriage. For whatever reason, I could never figure out how to do my job in less than 55 to 65 hours a week, sometimes more. Often more.

Of course, that claim was always suspect because everyone knew how much I loved my work. He's not there because he has to be. He's there because he wants to be. (Can't they both be true?)

For the last decade, I've gone to lunch not with my work, but with my newspapers and magazines.

Mike Hughes is one of the most inspiring people in advertising.

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