How Leukemia Changed a Tycoon's Priorities

Leukemia can sneak up on you from behind or maybe jump out from behind a bush. That is figuratively, of course. You don’t expect it to jump out at you from the pages of your newspaper, but that’s what it did for me when I was reading about a disaffected Russian tycoon.

I didn’t feel any pity for Russian tycoon Oleg Tinkov when I read retribution by President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration was swift after the tycoon criticized the war in Ukraine.

A blood cancer connection

But I did feel that his having acute myeloid leukemia made him a little more human and relatable to me. And interestingly, according to the story, the leukemia helped him in unexpected ways.

According to the Times, “He said that his illness — he is now suffering from graft-versus-host disease, a stem-cell transplant complication, he said — might have made him more courageous about speaking out than other Russian business leaders and senior officials.”1

Leukemia and other big challenges

In May 2020, you wouldn’t say the leukemia was the least of his problems, but you would say that he had other pretty big challenges.

A former cycling team owner, he was written up in the cycling publication VeloNews, like so:

“Flamboyant former team owner Oleg Tinkov confirmed reports he’s been diagnosed with leukemia. The diagnosis comes as the 52-year-old Russian billionaire, currently living in London, is trying to fend off an extradition order to appear before a U.S. court for tax fraud for under-reporting income, according to U.S. tax officials.”2

Tidying-up after a diagnosis

After diagnosis, many of us have had to quickly tidy up whatever projects we were pursuing at work and at home. I remember, after my 2003 diagnosis, going into the newspaper office and trying to finish stories that I had started. It sure was hard to concentrate.

Tinkov got to deal with his “stuff” in a cushier setting than my newspaper office.

As VeloNews reported, “A London court has set a $25 million bail and imposed a curfew that he must stay within his $8.5 million apartment overnight.”2

Poor baby, right?

The story continued, “With regards to questions from the United States on my past taxes, my lawyers are working on that, while I use my strength to fight my true enemy,” Tinkov said of the March 2020 diagnosis.2

You can really go down a rabbit hole with this kind of thing.

A big headline announced, about a year earlier, “Arrested Billionaire Banker Tinkov Switches Focus to Cancer Foundation.” The Tinkoff Bank founder told The Moscow Times "he no longer has the motivation to do business.”3

I'm not sure what this means, but he said he "nearly died twice" but now has an "80%" chance of survival. I can kind of guess, though, because I feel like I nearly died at least once, when I went into a coma and had life-threatening complications from my last stem cell transplant.

Changing priorities to research blood cancer

Meanwhile, the Tinkov family set up a charitable foundation for blood cancer research.
"I am dedicating a huge amount of my money to it... I would like to fundamentally change the hematology and blood cancer system in Russia," he told the independent Moscow newspaper. Having undergone a bone marrow transplant in July, he said he plans to work with the centres (British spelling) for bone marrow transplants.3

Nothing like a little blood cancer to show you what's important.

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