One Agent’s Inspirational Journey To Hell And Back

Industry veteran, Brett Wendorf shares this sad, yet heartwarming, story about My Cruise Concierge’s Derek Harwood, with the aim to provide inspiration to others.

Industry veteran, Brett Wendorf shares this sad, yet heartwarming, story about My Cruise Concierge’s Derek Harwood, with the aim to provide inspiration to others.

Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote the famous “Inferno” in which he depicted the nine concentric circles of hell.

For those unfamiliar with the great works of Dante or Tom Hanks, “Inferno” is a nine level hell, kind of like Westfield Parramatta, with each lower level reflecting a deeper sin and harsher punishment, a penthouse to shithouse if you will.

“Inferno” is a perfect metaphor for the state of the travel industry in 2020. The top-level, “Limbo,” would be for those still working in some capacity, on job keeper, and particularly adept at bending over backwards whilst going under a bar.

Each lower level would present another circumstance that would make the Covid experience even more difficult.

In “Inferno,” as it is in the 2020 travel industry, no matter what the level or situation, everyone is struggling. It feels like we are all passengers on the Titanic – some of us are in the water, some of us are on lifeboats, and some still on the damaged ship.

Without any help, we all could eventually share the same fate. But that’s not going to happen.

The RMS Carpathia will be here soon, and it is Happy Hour on the Lido deck. Jack and Rose are getting married, having a wedding at Club Med Finolhu, then flying in Etihad’s Residence, to spend a week at Cap Estel on the French Riviera, and they’re booking everything through a travel agent.

Like Dante’s “Virgil,” My Cruise Concierge’s Derek Harwood explored the depths of “Inferno” intimately as his personal circumstance pushed him lower and lower into the abyss.

Not only was Derek a home-based agent, but he actually owned his agency.  Derek is one of many “Double Neg’s” out there, in that his wife, Michelle, also works in travel.  

Derek has a mortgage. Derek has two boys, both of who required home schooling. And the next step isn’t for the faint of heart, but Derek…. lives in Melbourne.   

Derek Harwood

In Dante terms, Derek is somewhere between level 7 and 8, between the sorcerers and sodomites. But then, Derek turned 50, and got the worst birthday present imaginable which sent him straight down to level 9 in travel industry hell, a cold and dark space currently being leased by Channel 9.

But this isn’t a horror story, this is a story of inspiration, of Derek’s fight to journey back out of Dante’s Inferno, and rise to the heights of, uh,  Dante’s Peak.  

Derek Harwood

There are two things that stand out about the 2016 CLIA Mobile Broker of The Year, his passion for his craft, and his sense of humour. 

Like most of his fellow former Cruiseabout colleagues, Derek has swagger, he is cheeky, he is not backward in being forward, and he is still on a high from the enormous success he achieved when he opened the legendary Kew store, back in the day. 

He is a smart arse. He is bold.  He is either fearless, or completely lacks self-awareness…nobody knows.  

Like most newly 50-year-olds, Derek got a free Bowel Cancer Test kit from the Australian Government.  Like most men, Derek shelved it. 60% of test kits are never used. Men will not go to the doctor unless something bleeding, oozing, has changed colour, has fallen off or is, um, dysfunctional.    

But Covid absolutely saved his life. With the gift of time given by Covid, Derek decided he had no excuse to not do the test, “I was feeling healthy, but saw the ad on TV ‘Don’t put the test kit in the drawer and forget about it’ which resonated with me, so I took the test,”  Derek said.  

“My GP called me and said you’re positive for blood in both samples, you will need a colonoscopy.”  

Having suspended his private health just months earlier to help make ends meet, Derek had to go through public hospital, in Melbourne, during Covid. Happy $%$%ing Birthday!

“By the end of April I had the colonoscopy, which led to the kangaroo in the headlights conversation about the large growth in my bowel that looked malignant,” Derek said. “The doctor informed me that they would be taking out a section of my bowel, and I’d need a CT scan.”   

Many subsequent scans followed… Derek had stage 4 cancer, in his liver and his bowel.  Derek then had an all-day operation, which left him with a little less liver, a little less bowel, and zipper between his sternum and belly button. 

Like many, Derek found Covid overwhelming, but his battle with cancer gave him a newfound perspective.

“If you have your heath–mental and physical–you can survive anything,”

It was when he was recovering in a hospital bed that Harwood had an epiphany. What weighed so heavily on his mind before, in his occupational and financial struggles, were in fact temporary and beatable.

If he could offer any advice to his industry colleagues during this difficult time, it would be to focus on improving their own health, their family’s health, and to support the health of their friends.

Derek now faces 6 months of chemotherapy, which involves an infusion every 3 weeks and taking home – chemo tablets.   

Because he took his Bowel Cancer Test relatively early, he has a prognosis of a 75%- 85% positive outcome.    

“The whole process has been so fast, I’m focused on the good results and keeping a positive attitude,” Derek said. “This is only a setback, and as soon as Covid is over, everybody in the world, including me, is going to be begging, borrowing and stealing to book that bucket list trip as soon as they can. Nobody is going to get an inheritance for the next 50 years, because life is for living and travel.”

Once he wins his battle, the only depths Derek wants to explore are off the coast of Western Australia, where he and his family can finally take the postponed bucket list trip to Ningaloo to swim with the Whale sharks.