Zest for Life
Some people simply have a knack for coming full circle, finding fresh starts and making the most of the surprising twists and turns that life can offer. Dr. Julian Hancock is one such person.
He could never have guessed the islands of Canada’s West Coast — places he once sailed while a cruise-ship physician decades ago — would one day become his home. Back then, Julian’s young medical career had taken him around the world from his native England. He practiced in far-flung ports-of-call, and was on the front lines when a disease now known as AIDS began to surface in Zambia in 1978.
On the exclusive, privately owned island of Mustique, located among the Windward Islands between St. Vincent and Grenada, Julian routinely checked up the local celebrities in between patching up injured locals on the amateur cricket pitch. Mick Jagger was known across the island for his lavish New Year’s Eve parties, while David Bowie made his mark with lavish birthday celebrations.
“I was doctor to the stars,” he says.
In an interview from his laser skin therapy clinic in Nanaimo’s north end, Julian jokingly says that his life had come to resemble a novel by Richard Gordon. The English author, who worked as a surgeon and anesthetist, penned dozens of thrilling tales for print and screen about doctors fuelled by wanderlust and a distinctively comic inclination. The serial novels had titles such as Doctor in the House, Doctor at Sea, Doctor in Love and Doctor in the Soup.
It was on Mustique, perhaps after one too many of those celebrity bashes, that Julian met up with a visiting American physician.
“I recall him asking if I planned to stay on Mustique forever,” he says.
As tempting a prospect as that may have seemed for a spirited 30-something, the tête-à-tête prompted Julian to return to school and specialize in dermatology. He figures the odds of gaining admittance to the specialty program at that stage of his life were approximately 1,000 to one, but the call arrived, and soon Julian was bound for Canada’s West Coast.
During his residency at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in 1998, Julian grasped the consequences and significance of that little known disease he’d witnessed in Africa nearly two decades before. From there, it was off to northern British Columbia, where he worked as a dermatologist in the Terrace area.
“What a wonderful place it is,” he says.
The lure of Canada’s wild spaces encouraged Julian to stay in the country, and in 2001, he moved to Vancouver Island, where he had two children. He opened a practice in Nanaimo soon after moving to the island and started his first skin laser therapy clinic nearly two decades ago.
Setting up his own state-of-the-art Skin Laser Clinic was always a dream, and Julian’s Nanaimo location was the first
on Vancouver Island, outside of Victoria. He says continually searching for ways to improve his dermatology service is a source of great professional satisfaction. His was the first clinic to introduce photodynamic therapy to prevent skin cancer, and he’s currently examining how herbal skin-care products can improve the lives of people with skin disorders.
“We were particularly struck by the large number of excellent parks in Nanaimo, especially along Hammond Bay Road, where we lived in what became, after many renovations, my dream house, with south-facing views of Departure Bay,” he says.
With his busy Dr. Skin Laser Clinic on Rutherford Road and another branch in Victoria’s Fairfield neighbourhood, one might think the doctor has moved beyond the adventures that marked his earlier years. But such an assumption would be a huge mistake.
His children, now teenagers, and his first marriage now behind him, Julian commutes to England about six times a year to visit his partner, a professional harp player he met while still working as a ship’s physician years before his first marriage. His visits “back home” rarely exceed two weeks, but he makes sure to allot ample time for his involvement in numerous clubs.
“In the United Kingdom,” he says, “I belong to Richmond Bridge Boat Club, Twickenham Yacht Club and the Thames Traditional Boat Society. I keep a small motor sailer in the UK as a ‘pied à mer,’ plus a couple of kayaks, rowing boats and bicycles for fun.”
He adds, “I endeavour to find a good balance between caring for my children, my clinics, my lady harpist and my interests.”
Sounds manageable enough, until you consider Julian’s other interests.
A few years ago, he took free-diving lessons at the University of British Columbia. He’s able to dive 60 feet on a single breathe of air and soon plans to visit Hawaii, where he’ll aim to complete a 100-foot dive. Next year he’ll be off to scuba dive with his son in the Bahamas.
When he isn’t holding his breath underwater, Julian is pushing his limits on the surface
by participating in numerous international rowing races and events. He has competed in the Victoria Gorge Regatta, participated in
the Queen’s Jubilee on the River Thames, and twice completed the Vogalonga, a 30-kilometre human-powered race through the canals of Venice. For his second go at the event, Julian rowed the course standing up, facing forward, gondolier style in a traditional Venetian gondola.
Many of his medals and certificates from these races adorn the walls of the waiting room in his Nanaimo clinic.
During the past two years, Julian has participated in the Vancouver Island Motor Gathering at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, raising funds for the David Foster Foundation, and Cowichan Hospital. He also has a replica of a 1935 SS100 Jaguar, which he has exhibited at various car shows and parades across the island over the years.
Amidst all the action, Julian still finds time to return to Africa, albeit indirectly, through his fervent support for the Mercy Ships organization.
“I love raising money for these guys, the work they do is superb; I hope to work on one of the mercy ships myself one day,” he says.
Julian’s 2018 Mercy Ships fundraising challenges include a four-day bike ride from London to Paris in July and participating in the Great River Race in London, England this September. He’s currently hoping to organize a gala fundraising event for Mercy Ships Canada at a major Victoria hotel.
Quite apart from all the globe-trotting and jet-setting, Julian says he considers himself exceedingly blessed to have been called to be
a physician and make a difference in people’s lives, including those from all walks of life — Australian aborigines and African villagers to celebrities.
“At the end of the day we are all but mortal humans, whatever our life story, and we all appreciate being helped by others,” he says.
“Being a physician all these years, in all these countries, to all these different people, has been an immense privilege. I can only hope that, on balance, I have made a difference to many lives, and for the better. I often reflect that I have learned more from listening to my patients than my many lecturers.”
BY SEAN MCINTYRE
PHOTO BY DON DENTON
Reprinted from boulevardmagazines.com