Greg Lance – Watkins
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PIONEERING radio broadcaster James Whale has cancer of the kidney, spine, brain and lungs.
The talkRADIO star tells today how he considered going to Dignitas when he was first given the devastating news a fortnight ago.
But now he has vowed to fight the disease so he can return to the airwaves.
The diagnosis is a devastating blow for James, coming just two years after his beloved wife Melinda died of lung cancer and 20 years after he had one kidney removed because of a tumour.
In an exclusive interview, the 69-year-old bravely reveals: “This little bastard has spread. It’s in my remaining kidney. I’ve got a couple of small lesions in my lungs. I’ve got it in my spine. I’ve got it in my brain.”
James is one of the UK’s leading radio broadcasters. His late-night series, the James Whale Radio Show, which was broadcast live simultaneously on Radio Aire in Leeds and ITV in the 1980s, made the genre famous.
He spent 13 years presenting weeknights on talkSPORT from 1995 before moving onto a drivetime show on LBC broadcasting every weekday for four years, sparking a huge ratings rise.
He now hosts between 7pm and 10pm on News UK’s booming station talkRADIO alongside long-time co-host Ash Gould.
The 2016 Celebrity Big Brother star had been feeling unwell for about a year.
But he was prompted into taking action when he started forgetting names on air while presenting his popular nightly radio show.
Blood tests showed he had very low sodium levels, so he was referred to a haematologist.
Recalling being told the diagnosis two weeks ago, James says: “The woman looked worried and she said ‘I’m so sorry. I’ve got really, really bad news for you. I’m afraid 20 years ago you had kidney cancer. Well, it looks like it’s probably come back. You’ve got a tumour on your kidney.’
“And I thought, ‘OK, well, 20 years later I’ll have to do all over again.’ And then she said, ‘I’m sorry. Sadly it’s spread. You’ve got small lesions in your brain and your lung, in your spine, in your pituitary gland.’”
James’ immediate reaction, driven by shock and trauma, was to consider euthanasia.
“I came home, had a little think about things. I decided I’m just booking myself a trip to Dignitas. You might as well just go and get it over with,” he says in his trademark brutally honest style.
“I’d looked into it quite some time ago because Melinda died two years ago and it’s been something in the back of my mind.”
But James was supported by his son, also James, to seek help from the charity Kidney Cancer UK that he set up after his first battle with the disease in 2000.
His treatment has been guided by Professor Thomas Powles, director of London’s Barts Cancer Centre where he is lead for solid tumour research.
James says: “I went to his office and he told me: ‘I think you can put off your trip to Dignitas for a little while.’”
He had a biopsy last week and its results will help determine a prognosis, but he is already on immunotherapy and hormone replacement treatment which has transformed his way of life.
RETURNING TO WORK
He explains: “I’ve had a tumour on my pituitary gland, which has altered all my hormones. So, for the past few months, the sight of food made me feel sick.
“I suddenly looked in the mirror and I saw my granddad. I thought all my face had got sunken in, I’d gone grey.
“I haven’t got a proper prognosis yet because it’s very early days, but this immunotherapy is a very new way of treating cancer — it gets the immune system to attack the tumours.
“I’m probably going to be on tablets for the rest of my life but I’ve gone from being like a little shrunken, old man in the chair who’s not eating and could hardly walk up the stairs, to where I can run upstairs.”
James hopes the treatment will work, while allowing him to return to work by avoiding chemotherapy.
He says: “The pills should shrink the tumours until they hopefully disappear.
“It doesn’t work for everybody, but some people have been on their deathbeds then given this treatment and a couple of days later they’re up digging their gardens. I’m pretty sure I will be back on air very, very soon.”
The experience has made James — a loyal and caring friend, beloved by his colleagues — think about his mortality and there have been incredibly difficult moments.
“Have no doubt, it’s a shock and you’ll sit in a corner on your own and you’ll cry. I do quite a bit now on my own,” he admits.
“But I have no intention of dying right at this particular moment. I’ve got a few more programmes in me that I need to do, including more TV.
“I am pretty strong. I’m determined not to allow this to really undermine me.
“I’m coming up to being the oldest working man on British radio and I have continually been on air since I was 24.
“Next year I’m 70, so if I live another ten years, I’d be quite happy.”
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