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I’m a CEO with stage 4 cancer. Here’s what I can tell you about life

Anastasia Santoreneos
·4-min read
Portrait of male CEO in big corner office, looking out of window
CEO's major lesson after cancer diagnosis. Source: Getty

As the CEO of US real estate company, Keyrenter Franchise, Aaron Marshall spent around 60 to 90 hours per week at work. That all changed when he was diagnosed with stage two and stage four cancer in his appendix, colon and liver.

“After a diagnosis of cancer, it changes your entire thinking,” Marshall told Yahoo Finance. “It helps put things in perspective, and things that once were a priority were no longer so.”

In the beginning, Marshall considered stepping down from his role as CEO, but his wife urged him to stay on.

“My wife gave me the advice I needed - she said, ‘you need something to get yourself out of bed in the morning’,” he said.

As a CEO, it can be hard to take your foot off the pedal and allow your staff to do the hard yards, but this is exactly what Marshall had to do if he was going to continue.

“I knew I needed to focus on healing my body, but I also needed something to get me out of bed. I re-prioritised my days and delegated many tasks to my capable team,” he said.

“I empowered them to succeed in their roles, and now I meet with them one-on-one each week to ensure they are confident in what they are doing. The company has a vision and each team member is part of that.”

But while Marshall finally learned the importance of having a great work-life balance, he said his biggest lesson through it all was this: “Life is precious.”

“Even more so now, I encourage people to find their passion and follow it,” he said.

Aaron Marshall, CEO of Keyrenter Franchise and author of Cash Flow Is King. Source: Cash Flow Is King
Aaron Marshall, CEO of Keyrenter Franchise and author of Cash Flow Is King. Source: Cash Flow Is King

Live like there’s no expiration date

Despite his cancer diagnosis, Marshall said he doesn’t believe in expiration dates, and believes everyone should live the same way, cancer or not.

“Growing up, my parents always said they would vacation and do more things once they retired and had more time,” Marshall said.

“Shortly after retirement, my mum was diagnosed with a disease that put her in a wheelchair. They have made travel work in their retirement, but it’s not the way they envisioned.”

So, Marshall made a decision early on not to wait.

“Life is about the journey, and we need to enjoy it - not wait until some future day that may never come,” he said. “Since my diagnosis, this drive has only increased - I want to make memories with my family, and spend time with them, enjoying life and guiding them as they become of age and make decisions on their own.”

His one piece of advice? “Enjoy life.”

Being positive is a choice

Marshall said he’s become something of a mentor to his peers and colleagues, and the one question they always ask him is, “how do you stay so positive?”

And the answer is simple: positivity is intentional.

“I have had many challenges throughout my life that shaped me to be the man I am today,” Marshall said.

“From birth, being born with a cleft palate, the surgeries, the speech delays, I had a drive to overcome these challenges. As I look back, I realise these were all lessons that are helping me today with my current cancer challenge.”

And while his cancer diagnosis might be out of his control, the key to staying positive is to focus on what you can control.

“I don’t just take what my doctor tells me. If I did, it would be hard to stay positive,” he said. “Instead, I focus on what I can control – my diet, my attitude, exercise, life balance, and I am not afraid to change directions if needed.

“I still have bad days, and sometimes we need to feel those feelings, but I don’t dwell on them. I let them come and then I get up and get moving.”

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