In 2006, Conn Bertish, an iconic internationally awarded Creative Director, artist, big wave surfer, Fear Factor winner, husband and father of two young children, was handed the toughest brief he had ever seen.
Conn was diagnosed with a severe and extremely rare form of brain cancer. So rare, in fact, that the data available for the behaviour (and the reaction to certain treatments) of the cancer was depressingly hard to find.
Whilst the traditional cancer treatments (like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) were prescribed, Conn felt that there was something missing. It was as if the most important part of the solution was left out of the brief.
Where was he in the solution? Surely he could do more than just ‘be strong’? He solved challenges for a living, so surely he could play a role here? He could try to understand the problem and then creatively become a part of the solution …
Conn knew how to work with tough briefs. He immediately set in motion the biggest creative project of his life. He began the process of using his imagination to immerse himself into his bout with cancer. He went straight to the first things that he always relied on – his pen, his paper and his playful problem solving attitude. He began toying with cancer, studying the helpless people around him and crating visual representations of what he was going through; documenting his experience with conceptual thinking and storytelling.
Conn beat his cancer in 2013, with doctors, oncologists, neurologists and professors of science urged Conn to share his way of thinking; to use his experience as a gateway for others and to enter the world of his playful visual approach.
We will leave the rest of this story to Conn to tell you exactly how he defeated his cancer …
About Conn Bertish:
Conn was born in Cape Town and he spent most of his time up the West Coast – sailing, surfing and exploring with his family.
An energetic, funny, creative and naughty child, Conn came from a tight knit family of ocean sailors, surfers and paddlers – they were all schooled in the waters of the Atlantic and this built confidence in Conn and his brothers; it’s in their blood and the ‘storyteller’ gene was inherited from their father, Keith Bertish – who also inspired Conn to pursue his dream of speaking:
“My dad, Keith Bertish, was not only an incredible father, waterman and adventurer, he was also an amazing storyteller as much as he was a story maker… I think the pursuit of speaking finds you at a time when you, at your core, have something poignant to say. Be it a point of view, a story, an experience – something that compels you, to share it, because it just needs to be heard.”
People enjoyed Conn’s view of the world; a creative mix of passion, humour and hard-won experience – they started to ask Conn to speak at their events and this is how it all started for him approximately 5 years ago.
“I have the ability to create the space to allow myself to play with obstacles that most people find debilitating. I’ve worked on these techniques for over 15 years and not only won many international awards and accolades but I have used them to help me beat brain cancer in 2013. This is the approach that I am now sharing with others”.
“I have grown more confident in my own talents and abilities – and I worry less what other people think of me.”
“I need to make stories, experience different things, learn from the world and then share my views. The world is more open to the sharing of stories than ever before, thanks to social media – there are a myriad of channels just waiting for new ideas to spread. Although I am speaking, I am working on a big project to change how the world views cancer, this is my focus, and speaking helps me to get it out there”
In his spare time, Conn surfs large waves in Cape Town with his brothers. He also creates art, he writes and he has adventures with his family. He volunteers by assisting people dealing with cancer (on a personal level) and he runs the Non-Profit Cancer-Fighting Content Agency called Cancer Dojo.