Whitham In­ter­view:

Fighting cancer again

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Sport - By Michael Guy SPORTS EDITOR @Mc­n­sport mo­tor­cy­cle­news

Twenty two years ago James Whitham’s rac­ing ca­reer was ripped apart when, out of the blue, he was di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin’s Lym­phoma – a blood-re­lated cancer. Al­though the di­ag­no­sis, sub­se­quent treat­ment and chemo­ther­apy wrecked his 1995 sea­son, the then 29year-old fought back in style go­ing on to fin­ish run­ner-up in BSB (in 1996), win a WSB race, com­pete in 500GPS and fight for the World Su­per­sport championship – then re­tir­ing in 2002. Over the fol­low­ing decade-and-ahalf, Whitham has been in good health and made a point of get­ting in­volved in as many mo­tor­cy­cle-re­lated shenani­gans as pos­si­ble. He also be­came the voice of BSB and WSB on Eu­rosport and at the Isle of Man TT. But for the sec­ond time in his life the 51-year-old is now fac­ing his demons once again fol­low­ing the re­cent di­ag­no­sis that the Hodgkin’s Lym­phoma has re­turned.

MCN spent a day with one of the UK’S most-loved bike rac­ers where, de­spite his cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, he re­mains as en­ter­tain­ing and philo­soph­i­cal as ever.

“While I’ve never ob­sessed about it, I’ve al­ways thought that if some­one gets cancer in their 20s when they are oth­er­wise fit and healthy, don’t smoke or drink to ex­cess, then I was more likely to get it back than some­one who has never had it.

“When I had it be­fore I had a lot of symp­toms, I was tired, not sleep­ing, lost a load of weight, whereas this time I haven’t. Once you’ve had cancer once, you’re kind of care­ful, you check for lumps and you’re just aware of your­self a bit more. I’d had no symp­toms at all but then I found one of my lymph glands was swollen. I went to the doc­tors straight away and if I’m hon­est I kind of knew. My doc­tor ini­tially said it was noth­ing to worry about, but I left think­ing ‘well it wouldn’t sur­prise me’.

“To put my mind at rest he sent me for a blood test and said he’d let me know the re­sults the next week. The next morn­ing my phone went and it was the doc­tors and I knew straight away and it’s proved to be ex­actly what I thought. It’s ex­actly what I had be­fore – Hodgkin’s Lym­phoma.”

It’s not like break­ing a leg

“I have to say that the doc­tors are very non-com­mit­tal! As cancer spe­cial­ists I think they have to be be­cause what might work for me might not work for you and vice versa. It’s not like break­ing a leg when they say we’re go­ing to put a pin in it, do this, do that and you’ll be al­right – they don’t know if you’re go­ing to be al­right or not.

‘I am both­ered be­cause I want to be here, but it doeesn’t frighten me’

‘ There’s no point plan­ning a hol­i­day in two years time, cos I might not be here’

“So far I’ve had two lots of chemo, I’ve got one more lot this week and I’m ex­pect­ing to have five in to­tal so I’m about half way.

“The ideal sce­nario is that it goes and you crack on... or it doesn’t and you die. It’s quite a sim­ple con­cept re­ally!”

Not look­ing for sym­pa­thy

“The first peo­ple I rang af­ter my fam­ily was Eu­rosport and North One who do the TT cov­er­age. What I didn’t want to hap­pen was that I didn’t tell any­one and then I sud­denly couldn’t do the job or I’d turn up look­ing like a bald man on steroids. I told North One I couldn’t do the TT and Eu­rosport just said no wor­ries, just come when you can.

“It doesn’t bother me ev­ery­one know­ing. My big­gest fear was that it was just go­ing to be loads of peo­ple feel­ing sorry for me. I was be­tween treat­ments when the TT was on – I had a two-day win­dow and felt as fit as a fid­dle and wanted to go, but I knew it would be sad, peo­ple ask­ing me if I was al­right.”

Great sup­port

“I’ve had re­ally good sup­port from ev­ery­one around me.

“I got a great let­ter from a fan the other day, they ob­vi­ously didn’t know my ad­dress, it just said: James Whitham, Mo­tor­bike racer, House in the coun­try with big garage Nr Hud­der­s­field and it got here!”

Sil­ver lin­ing

“It makes things that you take for granted seem more im­por­tant – like see­ing my kid. The sim­ple things in life.

“The other good thing is that I’ve al­ways liked my work­shop time, but I’ve had to bal­ance that with fam­ily, girl­friend work and what­ever else. But be­cause I’ve only been able to work when I can I’ve had a load more work­shop time – and that’s all good.

“It’s hard to say if I’ll change any­thing in the fu­ture be­cause it could still go ei­ther way. I don’t know what’s go­ing hap­pen. There is no point plan- ning for my hol­i­days in two years time – be­cause I might not be here.

“I’m not re­ally ma­te­ri­al­is­tic any­way – that’s prob­a­bly down to hav­ing cancer be­fore. As long as I have some bikes to play on, my aero­plane, I’m al­right. I’ve never been a ruth­less in­dus­tri­al­ist!”

What hap­pens next?

“I re­ally want the TV stuff to con­tinue, I like the work and it’s great to be get­ting paid for some­thing I en­joy.

“It was the same with the rac­ing – when you got knocked about in a crash, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily feel like the best job in the world – but when I look back at it now I was get­ting paid to f**k around on mo­tor­bikes.

“I think the cancer job means that I’ve taken it all a bit less for granted.

“It’s made me put my af­fairs in or­der. I don’t have a lot to leave, but I don’t want peo­ple fighting over it. I don’t want any­one hav­ing to fig­ure it out.”

Be­ing re­al­is­tic

“I had some rel­a­tives come over and they were ob­vi­ously ask­ing me all sorts of ques­tions about the treat­ment. And then they said ‘and what hap­pens if it doesn’t work’ and I said ‘well – you die’. But they started telling me not to talk like that. For me speak­ing like that doesn’t make me any less pos­i­tive. Even if it goes the wrong way – I’ve known plenty of blokes (my best mate Paul Shoe­smith was one) who set off on a mo­tor­bike or an aero­plane or a car or just had a heart at­tack and never had the lux­ury of do­ing the things they wanted to do, never had the chance to make their peace.

“I’ve got my head around it. It doesn’t scare me – I thought I’d have loads of sleep­less nights think­ing what if? Don’t get me wrong, I am both­ered be­cause I want to be here, but if I’m not it doesn’t frighten me. The hard­est thing is what you leave be­hind – my daugh­ter.”

Bru­tally hon­est

“The day I got di­ag­nosed I was talk­ing to my mate who I run track days with, Paul Drinkwa­ter. He asked me how I was and I said: ‘Look I’ve done a load of stuff in my life and be­ing to­tally hon­est it’s all go­ing a bit s**t! It’s never go­ing to be as good as was 25 years ago is it? I can’t race any good any­more, sex has gone to s**t. And he said that if I do die, he’s go­ing to stand up at my fu­neral and tell ev­ery­one ex­actly that!” (laughs).

Mend­ing and rid­ing bikes keeps Whitham happy Whitham is halfway through chemo

Like Aladdin’s cave... only loads bet­ter

Straight-talk­ing Whitham is get­ting his af­fairs in or­der Whitham runs a small air­field near Hud­der­s­field

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