In September of 2022, Mike Peters wrote to fans of his rock band, The Alarm, to share the news of his hospitalization and third cancer diagnosis. This time around, he had been diagnosed simultaneously with pneumonia, chronic lung disease, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The situation was seemingly dire and his future uncertain, but he wanted the news to come directly from him. So, he penned the letter and signed it with a single word: Forwards.
Not “Sincerely.” Not “Best Regards.” Forwards. Such a hopeful word from someone in a precarious situation. He recalls that the word just came to him, much as his song lyrics do. That word became a life philosophy as well as the title track off his latest album of the same name. An album, by the way, that Mike completely conceived and wrote while undergoing intensive inpatient chemotherapy.
Jules Peters, Mike’s wife and a cancer survivor herself, tells me Mike’s optimism is not unusual. “I am married to the most positive man in the world. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took a lot of strength from Mike.”
Mike and Jules are 2 people doing a lot of good in the world. Along with their friend, James Chippendale, they founded Love Hope Strength (LHS) to raise money for community oncology projects around the world. It’s important to note that the funds raised through LHS events remain in the local community to address specific needs on the frontlines of cancer care. For example, the funds raised at their concert on Mount Everest were used to purchase the first mammography machines in Nepal.
Back home in North Wales, they converted a chapel into a retreat center for people affected by cancer. The chapel is a magical space for the couple; originally a place of worship, it has subsequently been used as a recording studio, rehearsal space, film location, and now retreat center. Mike and Jules say they have honored this building by trying to stay true to an inscription found on the chapel wall, “respect this holy place.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike and Jules, and I am most grateful for that time. Their personal experiences, professional pursuits, and philanthropic endeavors speak to the resilience and kindness of the human spirit. I am very happy to report both Mike and Jules are in remission and doing well. Together, they are a beautiful example of living optimistically despite life’s hardships by consistently moving in a singular direction. Forwards.
Mike, after your experience with cancer in 2007, you created the foundation Love Hope Strength with the mission of “saving lives, one concert at a time.”
Yes, during my treatment, Jules and I along with our friend James Chippendale realized that there was a huge opportunity to help people at the point of receiving care. There seems to be so much funding for cancer research, but there are also needs on the frontlines of care that directly benefit patients, caregivers, and their healthcare teams.
When I was receiving chemotherapy here in North Wales, I could see the summit of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in the UK. I resolved that when I got better, I would take all the Alarm fans to the summit and use the money raised to make a difference at the local hospital.
After we completed that first show, we thought, why stop at Snowdon? Let’s go to Everest, the highest mountain in the world. That’s when our charity really took off.
We took some great musicians on that trip. We not only broke the world record for the highest concert on land at the time, but we were also able to raise funds for the Nepalese nation and change the dynamic of the Bhaktapur Cancer Center in Katmandu. We bought the first mammography machines for the people at Katmandu after learning that women had to travel to India for breast cancer screening—there was no screening equipment in Nepal. This purchase strengthened the services on the frontline where the cancer battle was being fought.
LHS has hosted concerts on Mount Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, Mount Fuji, to name a few. Can you speak to the meaning of these locations?
Looking at Snowdon from my hospital bed, the mountain became a symbol of recovery. It’s just a beautiful place where I used to go before I heard the word “cancer,” and a place I knew I wanted to visit again after I’d dealt with cancer. We invite others to join us so they can celebrate their lives and their journey, or as a way to support their loved ones who can’t currently make the trek.
Jules, can you talk about your experience in founding LHS?
I was just 29 years old when Mike was diagnosed. And I just felt broken, as if my life had gone from color to black and white. When we established Love Hope Strength, I wanted to make sure the caregiver role was considered. I felt it was really important for the foundation to give hope to patients and caregivers by just telling our stories for those who would follow in our footsteps. I feel that’s what Love Hope Strength does. It’s a place where anyone dealing with cancer is welcomed.
Mike, I can’t help but notice, the words “Love Hope Strength” are from the Alarm song called “Strength.” Has their meaning to you changed over time?
Yeah, those are important words. I feel like I’ve been blessed by some higher power sending me songs, and the guitar is the midwife to bring them into the world. It was that way one night in ’84 while on a British tour, I woke up with an idea and grabbed a guitar. The words just came to me, “Give me love, give me hope, give me strength.” Then, “Who will be the lifeblood coursing through my veins.”
10 years later, I was on tour and felt a lump near my collarbone. The doctor sent me to the hospital for a blood test. On that visit, I received a cancer diagnosis.
As Jules said, everything went from color to black and white. The doctor said, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow when you’re over the shock.” He gave me some reading materials and said we’d talk properly the next day.
But I had a gig that night. I wanted to stay focused on that and not think about cancer and all that it might do. Twenty minutes earlier, I was planning on going to a gig. Somebody said the word “cancer,” but it hadn’t changed my life yet. So, I figured I’d rewind life by 20 minutes and carry on from there.
At the gig that night I sang the words, “Give me love, give me hope, give me strength. Who will be the lifeblood coursing through my veins?” I suddenly realized why I wrote this song. It’s for this moment of my life. It was only right to use these words for our foundation. It almost felt preordained.
You recently converted a chapel into a retreat center for people dealing with cancer. Can you tell us about that project?
Yes, the chapel was The Alarm’s original recording studio. It is opposite a 70-foot waterfall, which you can see from the windows. It’s an amazing spot; there’s a wonderful feeling of well-being here. We originally converted the space into apartments and created a series of staycations where Alarm fans could come in for concerts in an intimate setting.
And then Jules had an idea. We take all kinds of bookings at the chapel, but Jules wanted to invite people dealing with cancer to the chapel if they needed a break from the journey, they could come and have a complimentary stay at the apartments.
Last fall was a difficult time for your family when Mike was hospitalized. Jules, may I ask what happened?
It was a terrible time. Mike had pneumonia, but he had been sent home with antibiotics because of pandemic procedures. When he didn’t get better, they finally admitted him to the hospital. That’s when they discovered his leukemia was spiraling out of control. He had to remain in the hospital for an extended time to receive treatment.
Mike: Yeah, it was a long time. Eventually, I asked if Jules could bring my guitar to the hospital. I wanted to keep my fingers going, and I needed something to do. I promised the nurses and staff that I’d play quietly to myself since I was on a public ward. The nurses said this was the first time anyone requested to bring their guitar, and they were kind enough to indulge me.
What did the hospital staff think of your playing?
Ha! Well, one of the other patients said to me, “You can play a bit louder. It sounds good.” The nurses seemed to come around more often, the auxiliary staff would come and sweep under my bed twice because they all liked hearing the sounds. I think they enjoyed it!
The Alarm recently released a new album with songs you wrote during this hospital stay. How did your treatment shape the creative process?
Playing became a good solace for me in the hospital. Then, as my nature took over, songs started to appear in my mind. I had the guitar, I could work out a few chords, and I had an impetus to start making a record about then.
All the things around me became part of the creative environment. All the machines that used to annoy me—the heart monitors and other alarms—became my little rhythm tracks. Next thing I know songs are appearing in my imagination. When I came out of hospital, it was all there, and I quickly made a demo.
Do you have a favorite lyric from the album?
“There’s Always Another Way.” That line is me all over. It’s a sentiment that I think everyone gets. You have to create your own optimism these days, and I think this song, this lyric, speaks to that.
Jules, any favorite songs?
As Mike’s biggest fan, I love them all! If I had to pick, there’s a song Mike wrote when I was in treatment for breast cancer called “Heroine.” It was such a hard time. I certainly did not feel like a heroine. In fact, I felt as though I’d lost all my femininity. But that song celebrates love and life. It really pulls at the heartstrings.
Jules, what advice would you give to someone who was just diagnosed with cancer?
Do your best to stay calm, and as Mike always said to me, put your trust into your treatment team. Look around you, there is always some superhero ready to help you on your journey.
Mike, how about you, what advice would you give?
Cancer happens in the moment, in real time when you’re not expecting it, and it can send you plummeting into a dark place. I think it’s very important to arrest that fall right there and then and start your journey from the moment before you heard the word “cancer.” Start there.
If you were going on a run, or going to work, or taking your family out to dinner on the day of the diagnosis, start from there. Keep doing those things. Don’t let cancer take anything away that it’s not meant to take away from you.