‘I won’t let cancer beat me’
The TV veteran is staying strong, despite doctors telling him he had just six to 12 months to live more than a year ago
With his famous voice just a shadow of itself after weeks of radiation therapy for throat cancer, TV pioneer Mike Willesee frankly admits he didn’t expect to be around to see this year’s Melbourne Cup.
Yet Mike, 75, has defied the death sentence doctors delivered to him after he experienced stroke-like symptoms during a trip to Los Angeles to interview Paul Hogan in September last year, only to later find out he had terminal cancer.
“I went inside and burst into tears,” he says, explaining he maintained his composure driving home from the hospital, even to the point of phoning his PA to tell her to call his five grown children to break the terrible news.
“My biggest fear driving home from that diagnosis was how to tell my children and what would happen when I told them. I didn’t want to crack in front of them and that’s what I felt like doing driving home.”
It was a terrible day for this legend of Australian TV, who hosted A Current Affair, Four Corners and This Day Tonight. But he was given just a small glimmer of hope in the form of a new drug called Keytruda.
“I was one of the ones who appeared to have a miraculous result,” he says of his
experience i with ih the h drug. d “Ih “I had d al lot of f cancer in my throat, neck and lungs and it all disappeared. “I was cured – if you like to use that word dangerously with cancer.” That incredible moment when he was given the all-clear was to be short-lived however, with new tumours discovered weeks later. Still, this time doctors were confident they could shrink the tumours with radiation and give Mike another chance at life. “The prognosis now is reasonably good. They can’t be sure but they’re pretty confident they’ll beat the next round,” he says. “I’m in a much better place than I was 12 months ago. I didn’t really have a future then and I do now, so that’s progress!” It sounds like a miracle, but Mike, a once-lapsed and now devout Catholic again, attributes his extraordinary recovery to science rather than a greater power. “Not once did I think I had experienced a miracle,” he says. “Other people were getting great benefits from these new drugs and I thought I was just lucky I was one who benefited.”
And he considers himself an expert on miracles after spending the past 20 years researching them and other supernatural phenomenon after producing Signs From God for Fox in 1999 – a documentary watched by 29 million people.
“It’s the best story I’ve ever covered, with astounding results and I want to write it,” Mike says, explaining he’s so confident of his future now he’s signed to write a book about his research into the supernatural.
This week he launches the biography he started writing when he thought he was about to die late last year, detailing more than 50 years as one of Australia’s most famous TV journalists, covering wars and famines and interviewing prime ministers, murderers, dictators and s some of the world’s biggest stars. He knocked David Bowie back for d dinner, was courted by Rupert Murdoch a and Kerry Packer, and made a fortune p pioneering FM radio, before setting u up horse stud, which made him even m more fabulously rich. He happily admits to being sacked by channels Nine and T Ten – and twice by the ABC. The thrice-married father-of-six, in including youngest child, Rok, 13, and g grandfather to 11 says he finds it hard to regret because his mistakes are part of who he is today. Naturally, however, h he wishes his painful marriage break-ups ha hadn’t happened. “I regret them but I don’t seek a magic wa wand to change them,” he says, adding th that he gave up on finding love after the breakdown of his relationship with Rok’s mum Gordana, who he remains close friends with. “Those times have gone,” he says. “I’m in a much better place than this time last year but I haven’t got long to go and I have a big family with this great amount of love. “It’s all about looking forward, seeing my grandchildren grow, and my children. I have one who is very young and he gives me a lot of joy and I want to be around for a while, especially for him.”
He was the face of the ABC’S Four Corners from 1969 to 1971.
Memoirs by Mike Willesee (Macmillan, $44.99) is out this week. A member of the Logies Hall of Fame, Mike loves spending time with his grandchildren. The TV journo with his second wife Carol and toddler Amy. With his third wife Gordana in 2007. Interviewing boxing great Muhammad Ali in 1975… …and Paul Hogan the same year.