Real Stories
22 Oct 2019

Bill Turnbull: on chemo and the making of his documentary, Staying Alive

Ahead of his upcoming documentary we spoke to our ambassador Bill Turnbull about diagnosis, chemotherapy and the Turnbull/Fry effect.

When our ambassador, former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull revealed he had advanced prostate cancer in March last year, no one could have foreseen the positive impact sharing his diagnosis would have. We caught up with Bill a few months back while he was making the Channel 4 documentary...

It’s been over a year since you revealed your diagnosis, and a lot has happened in that time.  

Bill: When you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer it can be a pretty scary moment. It was for me. Particularly because it had already spread to my bones and the long-term outlook wasn’t good at all. It was a big shock for me and for my family, and we had some pretty dark times. But luckily, I started treatment very quickly after my diagnosis.

You had nine rounds of chemotherapy. How are you doing now?

Bill: The chemo wasn’t pretty, but was fairly effective. Since then I have felt a lot better as time has gone on. My immune system has improved and my body is more back to ‘normal’. I did put on more than a stone in weight due to the steroids I had to take, but that’s all come off again now, thank heaven.

I’m currently on a more gentle treatment, just a hormone injection every twelve weeks, and another to strengthen the bones. I’ve gone meat and dairy free, and as a result feel pretty good at the moment. I’ve also started doing yoga again regularly – and meditating, which I find particularly useful.

The continued outpouring of support must also have helped?

Bill: I like to say I have been buoyed by a thousand points of love! From friends and colleagues, my footballing family at Wycombe Wanderers, and from countless messages from people just wishing me luck.  

Also hearing from men who have been diagnosed and treated as a result of me speaking out – I can’t tell you how much that means to me, and gives me strength for the time that lies ahead.

I like to say I have been buoyed by a thousand points of love!

How important has keeping a positive mental attitude been for you?

Bill: It’s hugely important to stay positive – that’s part of the treatment really. You can’t let this disease get on top of you because psychology has a lot to do with it. One thing I’m not going to let it do is get me down because then it wins. And I’m not going to let it win.

You mentioned your beloved Wycombe Wanderers football club where you often commentate on games. How important is sport in getting the message out there?

Bill: I would estimate that at least half the men who attend games are middle-aged, and so potentially at risk. One man in eight gets it, so we need to reiterate that if you are over 50, black, or have a family history of the disease you should speak to your doctor. It may just save your life.

It’s also really useful to take some form of exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block once a day.

You met Stephen Fry recently for a Channel 4 documentary you’ve been filming.  How was that?

Bill: We started making the documentary after my appearance on Celebrity Bake Off, when I revealed my diagnosis. All of a sudden, after years of covering the news, I was the news, which felt a bit odd.

Stephen had announced that he had been treated successfully for prostate cancer a little earlier, so it made sense to talk to him for the programme. And he very graciously agreed to meet us. Like me, he’s happy that his experience has had such a positive effect.

The NHS had a huge surge in men speaking to their doctors about prostate cancer last year. Were you shocked by the impact the so-called ‘Turnbull/Fry’ effect had?

Bill: I was amazed to hear how many people had got themselves tested. It’s a great consolation to me to know that while my disease is advanced, many men have been saved a lot of difficulty by getting an earlier diagnosis.

It’s a great consolation to me to know that while my disease is advanced, many men have been saved a lot of difficulty by getting an earlier diagnosis.

Tell us a little more about what else we can expect from the film?

Bill: We’re trying to paint a picture of what it’s like to live with prostate cancer, to show how it feels to ride the Big C rollercoaster. There’ll be one or two surprises in it. If the final result is anything like the making of it, you’ll laugh and you might cry, but most of all I hope you’ll learn a lot.

The documentary airs on Channel 4 on Thurs 24th October at 10pm.

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