Bill Turnbull has spoken for the first time about his prostate cancer diagnosis. In a Radio Times interview with friend and former BBC Breakfast colleague Sian Williams, Turnbull says he discovered he had the illness last November – during filming for The Great British Bake Off’s Stand Up to Cancer special – and that it has spread to his bones.
“The contract I thought I had with life has been shortened quite a bit,” he tells Williams – who underwent treatment for breast cancer three years ago – explaining that his disease carries an average life expectancy of ten years, hopefully longer with chemotherapy.
The interview – which Turnbull is giving to raise awareness for his illness and encourage more men to get checked – sees the 62-year-old broadcaster discuss how his diagnosis came about. He had prostate tests at 40 and 50 but with no cancer in his family “wasn’t aware there was something going on inside me,” despite experiencing aches and pains for a year or so. “Maybe if I’d got it earlier and stopped it at the prostate, I’d be in a much better state.”
Turnbull has undergone chemotherapy and jokes that his cocktail of drugs “leaves me looking not quite like the Adonis that you remember,” but he says that despite his treatment “life is very liveable” and he continues to work.
But he gets most upset talking about the impact on his children – 29-year-old Henry, Will (28) and Flora (26) who he shares with Sesi, his wife of 30 years. “It’s really hard to know what to say when you want to protect them.”
Speaking about the moment he met with a consultant and asked about survival rates, Turnbull recalls: “He said, ‘Ten years’, and then, crazily, I drove home and thought – did he say ten years? Five years? What did he say? It was all such a blur.”
But he adds: “You have to be positive, don’t you? I know I’m not going to get cured and I’m realistic about the long-term prospects, but they’re not bad. Most importantly, I really do think I’ve had a wonderful life, with amazing experiences as a reporter and a presenter. And if it was all to end tomorrow, I couldn’t have any complaints. I’ve had a really marvellous time.”
Stand Up to Cancer is a joint campaign between Cancer Research UK and Channel 4. It starts with the Bake Off celebrity specials (beginning with Turnbull’s episode on Tuesday 6th March at 8pm) and will culminate in a live evening of fundraising in teh autumn.
Since its launch in 2012, Stand Up to Cancer has raised more than £38 million, which has helped fund 40 new trials and projects, involving 10,000 cancer patients.
Research projects include the development of a “chemo-package” to deliver treatment at the best time for the patient; testing arsenic as a weapon to make cancer self-cannibalise; and using viruses to seek and destroy cancer cells while boosting the immune system.