Sunday, January 31st, 2016
ripped from normalcy

Long-time readers know that I rarely stray from a regular pattern in these essays, in which I hope to identify a persistent issue in the investment ecosystem and offer creative ways to think about it.  Almost never do I get personal about anything.  This one’s an exception, so proceed accordingly.

In October, I wrote two pieces that I intended to be part of a longer series designed to “look at ways in which organizations and individuals can step out of the comfortable cocoons that they call home.”

Soon thereafter, that became something other than an academic exercise for me.

I was diagnosed with cancer on the base of my tongue.  It was too advanced to remove surgically, so I began a series of treatments designed to eradicate the tumor.

Most notably, I’m participating in an immunotherapy drug trial, which will continue for a few more months.  Part of a revolution in cancer care, this drug’s role is to break down the defenses of the tumor to allow my immune system better access to attack the unwanted cells.  As part of the trial, I got a somewhat lower dose of chemotherapy (once a week for six weeks) than is standard.

In addition, I received radiation treatments.  When radiation beams are directed at sensitive tissues involved with eating, drinking, swallowing, talking, yawning, coughing, etc., there are a lot of complications.  The side effects from my thirty-five days in the machine should be starting to diminish any day, but that’s been the hardest part of all of this.

To the point that I was trying to make in the earlier postings, it’s normally very hard to get a different perspective on things.  Sometimes, I found out, it’s forced upon you.

Your priorities immediately get reshuffled.  You start to think about everything differently.  You can’t do many things that you want to do, and you simply don’t want to do many things that seem trivial.  In my case, all of that was compounded by the fact that I received the treatments in another city; I even had to get used to apartment living again after decades away from it.

My professional writing dropped to essentially nothing, although I did write a bit, to the few hundred people who signed up for something called “Tom’s health updates” (which really turned into “Tom’s ruminations on life during treatment”).  It was interesting to see the reaction from people who had no idea that I’d ever done any writing (it’s always nice to receive praise), and I also found that I was liberated by the range of topics I could address.  I’ll have to figure out how to scratch that itch.

I was able to do some work, but not as much as I had expected.  I have a large project in hand that involves comparing a number of different investment organizations in depth, but I found that my cognitive abilities and energy varied quite a bit — not the appropriate conditions for comparative evaluations.  And when the narcotics warning says to “use care when operating a vehicle, vessel, or dangerous machinery,” there are some other brain activities that should be avoided too.

Luckily, my clients have been very understanding, even when my situation has caused delays or changes in their plans.

Observing the medical industry up close and personal, it’s hard not to make comparisons to the investment industry.  Many things are too cumbersome and the cost structures are too high for value to be added on a consistent basis (although the purveyors of modern medicine do a lot more remarkable things for their clients on average than the purveyors of modern finance do for theirs).

My prognosis is good and the early indications are positive, but I won’t know until May whether the treatments are deemed a success.  I have had a wonderful support network and a great medical team — and I was lucky enough years ago to have married the second coming of Florence Nightingale.  Everything has gone as well as could be expected.

I’m looking forward to digging back in, writing on this site and elsewhere,tjbllc | Here’s the list of my normal activities. and tackling some great consulting assignments.  I also will be speaking at two CFA Institute conferences on issues that I think are very important to the profession.

In March, I’ll be at the Wealth Management 2016 conferenceCFA Institute | There’s a great lineup of speakers for this event. in Minneapolis, talking about “Rethinking Due Diligence and Manager Selection.”  Two months later, I’ll make my first appearance at the annual conference, held this year in Montréal.CFA Institute | There’s always something for everyone at this conference, and great networking opportunities.  My topic will be “the missing link” for many investment professionals and their organizations:  the communications issues that cause many to run aground despite their investment skill.

I have always appreciated the opportunity to share my views with you and to get yours in return.  I’m excited to be back in the fray, trying to examine ideas that have value.  It will be a bit slow at first, but hopefully you’ll find it worth the wait.