Healthy Living

Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Beats Lymphoma Twice

Beating any type of cancer is a major feat in itself, but billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has defeated lymphoma not once, but twice.

Paul's story

Needless to say, being the co-founder of Microsoft is a pretty big deal. As an American digital pioneer, Paul has been on top of the world. He is internationally respected not only for his contributions to technology, but for his views on politics, contributions to education, and his billion-dollar investment firm Vulcan. However, despite his major successes in practically all of his endeavors, he hasn’t had it easy. Especially when it comes to cancer.

In 1982, Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, after completing radiation therapy and a bone marrow transplant, he was able to survive and beat the cancer. However, in 2009, he was diagnosed with the blood cancer of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Although this was a significant setback, those around him were confident that he would persevere, knowing the strength and dedication he had displayed all throughout his life. His sister explained the situation in a memo to his company: "doctors say he has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a relatively common form of lymphoma. This is tough news for Paul and the family. But for those who know Paul's story, you know he beat Hodgkin's a little more than 25 years ago, and he is optimistic he can beat this, too." She later continued, "Paul is feeling OK and remains upbeat. He continues to work and he has no plans to change his role at Vulcan."

Despite the recurrence, Allen is now free of cancer.

Idea Man

Even though he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments and fighting for his life, Allen was not going to let his illness get in the way of doing yet another great thing. He decided to write his book Idea Man, which discusses the history of Microsoft. He explains why he decided to write it at that specific time, "I was very sick with a life-threatening illness, and it had been on my list of things I wanted to do for many years, and I finally decided, the time is now to work on this."

In fact, he was so concerned about the state of his health, that he was not even sure that he would live to see it published. He said that, in the moment, that was his goal.

However, in hindsight, he recognizes that the book actually aided his recover. He says the book "was very helpful in getting me through chemotherapy because I would struggle to get going every day, and I would start describing things that happened and then eventually when I was toward the end of my chemo and then afterward, I would spend a long time editing and editing and editing. I went through every word in the book eight times ... My old feeling for the craftsmanship of programming came back and I tried to get everything, the words, the phrases, as best I could."

Visits from Gates

Of course, when one thinks of Microsoft, it is usually the billionaire Bill Gates who comes to mind. Paul Allen was absolutely crucial in the founding, and the two have remained friends, despite some rifts.
Within the book Allen discusses their relationship, and how they evolved from boyhood friends to business partners. Their bond faced some troubles, though, when Gates began to slowly remove Allen's ownership stake in Microsoft over a period of time. Despite their troubles, the two maintain a mutual respect for each other.

Allen even says that during his chemotherapy, Gates came to his home in Mercer Island, Washington, to support him and engage in what Allen refers to as great discussions.

Some backlash has implied that Allen wrote the book to attack Gates, but Allen explains that it could not be further from the truth. He confirms that Gates is his friend, and he does not harbor any resentment towards him. He simply wanted to tell his story, and told the truth about his perspective at the time. Allen explains, I wanted to tell the whole story from my perspective, and the ups and downs of our partnership, which was incredibly productive, and then, as the book tells, things slowly changed and I felt like I had to leave Microsoft. I thought people would be interested to know the key moments and the key events, and how things came together and how things ended up dissolving in the end. When those events happened there was a real sting and disappointment and surprise and all of those emotions, and I felt very strongly, and then after a period of years, I let it go."

He continues, "I consider us friends. We've been through many ups and downs in the past and, you know, these events happened 30-some years ago. At some point, we'll sit down and have an intense discussion about his recollections and my recollections and all that, but this book is meant to be my view of how things happened."

The future

Now that he has put cancer to rest for a second time, Allen is prepared to continue his innovation into the future. He has numerous projects in the works, but he notes that there is one that is of particular interest - the Allen Institute for Brain Science. He says, "I find the function of the brain incredibly fascinating, and it's like trying to crack the toughest, most complicated problem there is."

He remains one of the richest people in the world and will continue pursuing his many passions. He is a lover of music, sports, travel, and philanthropy - all of which he will continue taking advantage of.

He has founded the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and owns the largest collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia. It is not difficult to see how much Allen cares about music, because as soon as you step into his office you see guitars, including his Martin Robbie Robertson acoustic guitar.

He is an asset to the economy of the Pacific Northwest, and owns both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks.

The area wanted to honor him for all the work he has done to support them, and the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors honored him for his "unwavering commitment to nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest and lifetime giving approaching $1 billion." He was also given the Herbie Hancock Humanitarian Award from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for "his visionary achievements as a businessman and a global philanthropist."

These are very important to Allen, and in the future he seeks to find the perfect balance between work and his various other pursuits. He says, "in the first eight or so years at Microsoft, we were always chained to our terminals, and after I got sick the first time, I decided that I was going to be more adventurous and explore more of the world. Technology is notorious for engrossing people so much that they don't always focus on balance and enjoy life at the same time. So I think it's important to complement, as we used to say at Microsoft, the 'hard-core' investment you're making in your work with some adventure and some real enjoyment of life at the same time."


Photo: Paul G. Allen studies a brain sample with Allen Institute for Brain Science CEO Allan Jones  by Jordanatvulcan (Wikimedia Commons)