Steve Hewlett’s cancer story helped save listeners’ lives

BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Eddie Mair thanks the journalist for talking openly about his cancer battle with a wider audience, and shares two listeners' messages

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I’ve been asked a great deal of late for my thoughts on Steve Hewlett but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather let PM listeners speak about him. His contribution to PM in recent months, discussing his cancer, has affected our listeners in ways you might not imagine.

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If you’ll allow me, I’d like to let you read just two of the emails we’ve received in the past few weeks. I’ve removed some names but otherwise these are as sent to us.

I’m 24, soon to be 25 and a religious PM listener. I wanted to extend my gratitude to Steve Hewlett and thank him for giving his time to talk about his illness and his progress (please let him know I wish him all the best).

My mother died from metastasised bowel cancer when I was 14, and I have found grieving and dealing with her death very challenging over the past decade. I look back and see a naive and hormonal child and I was not prepared for what our family went through, I feel guilty for not understanding my Mother’s treatments and what the whole process meant.

I think looking back I blocked a lot of these adult conversations about my Mother’s illness out to help myself and spare myself, which was selfish of me. I wanted to thank Steve and Eddie for their frank conversations about Steve’s treatment and how he feels, it is really helping me to think back and remember those conversations we had about my mother and grasp what was happening to her body and how she must have been feeling.

I think listening to this has helped me understand that they were trying to protect me from all the scary medical jargon, but listening now, I feel comforted that it doesn’t sound as scary as I thought. As odd as it sounds I think that Steve’s conversations about cancer and treatments are helping me to process what happened to my own mother, and I wanted to thank you for this.

And another woman wrote to say this:

Dear Steve Hewlett,

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your journey through cancer on the PM show.

My partner heard your interview in around October time and up until then had dismissed the problems he’d had swallowing. After hearing your interview he went to his GP, endoscopies and biopsies followed, and on 2nd January 2017 he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. The cancer has been caught early enough that they can operate on him. He started chemotherapy this week and will be operated on in about 3-4 months’ time.

He’s only 35 and we’re told this is an unusual cancer for his age. Every doctor/nurse/consultant we’ve seen has asked what led him to go to his GP in the first place and every time we say, “Well, it’s all because of Steve Hewlett”.

All being well, you have saved his life, and there is no thank you quite big enough.

Cancer seems a far less terrifying journey because of your openness. The names of the chemo drugs sound like more familiar terms, and we know the side effects to watch out for. He is now openly sharing his experiences with friends and colleagues in the same way you have with the nation. 

Once again, thank you so much.

God bless you and your family at this time.

Eddie Mair’s column was written before the sad news emerged that Steve Hewlett had died today.

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The column appears in Radio Times magazine out on Tuesday