Richmond Mayor Bob White is back after a third cancer diagnosis. He is now urging others not to delay symptom control
I would like it to be clear from the start that I am not looking for sympathy or a medal. The reason I’m writing this is to convince people to get tested early and to give them hope and confidence.
The phrase no one ever wants to hear is “I’m afraid it’s cancer.” It is a phrase that I have heard three times.
In 2014, I went to the doctor with a minor problem. The doctor was young and enthusiastic and said, “Because of your age, I am going to do a routine blood test.” Two days later I was called to learn that I had early stage prostate cancer and had three options: wait and see how it goes, an operation to remove the prostate, or radiation therapy. . I opted for radiotherapy. After a few more tests, some involving long fingers, I was given a course of chemotherapy tablets to shrink the tumor, then for 37 consecutive days I went to the Endeavor Center at James Cook University Hospital for the radiotherapy. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, in fact it became quite a social event, meeting other people with the same problem every day, counting the days and having a little party like the ones that started before me have completed their program.
A test a month after my 37th treatment showed that the treatment had worked and the cancer had been stopped. I was relieved and delighted, thinking “This is it, I’ve had my share, now I can relax”. How wrong can you go.
In January 2019, I had a rough patch on the side of my nose and the doctor repeated these words “I’m afraid it’s cancer, but fortunately mild”. It was often called a rodent ulcer. I underwent a minor operation to remove it the day before the start of the first confinement. Which was handy for me, because I didn’t really want to be seen with a big orange bandage sewn to the end of my nose. The dressings were removed ten days later, but it took four months to heal completely.
In November 2020, I developed a hiccup every time I ate. Quite normal, I’m told, they usually go away quickly, but can last two or three weeks in some cases. By Christmas, the situation had worsened, and it was not just the hiccups, but the reflux into the esophagus, causing considerable discomfort.
Back at the doctor, this time I was sent for an endoscope inspection. Three days later, I heard the words “I’m afraid it’s cancer” again. I had cancer where my esophagus joined my stomach. This time there was only one option, an operation. In 1999 my 82 year old father had a similar problem. He survived the operation but died a week later of a heart attack. Shock really hit me this time, but I thought I beat it once, I will do it again
Confirmation of cancer came the day after I was appointed mayor of Richmond for 2021/2. I had to make a decision, either accept the appointment or withdraw. Much to my family’s initial displeasure, I chose to take the job because I felt it would give me a reason to get out of bed and not feel sorry for myself. Eventually my family agreed and my board colleagues were very supportive.
It was explained to me that this was a very large and complex operation and that I had to be fit enough to endure the procedure. I was put on a nine week cycle of chemotherapy, again to shrink the tumor. I expected to be sore after three sessions, three weeks apart, seven hours on the IV, but surprisingly, other than the hair loss, I felt great. Food poisoning after my second session set me back two weeks, then after all the chemo, when I thought I was fine, a preoperative check-up of my heart showed a narrowing of the left coronary artery, so two days later I had a stent installed which delayed me for another two weeks.
Finally, in September, the day arrived and I was admitted to the James Cook Hospital again. As they drove me to the theater, I had the terrible thought that this might be the last trip I would take. However, six hours later, I woke up in intensive care. The relief was indescribable.
I have to admit that the next two weeks in the hospital were not a pleasant experience. There was considerable pain, an inability to do anything on my own for a while and no visitors. It was very depressing – especially since I contracted an infection which necessitated my isolation. Five days alone in a secondary room. The staff were great but didn’t have time to sit and chat, I only saw them when they made my regular sightings.
Finally, after removing the staples from my wounds on my chest and side, I made it home. Still very fragile and needs a little help. But I started to improve. The operation had been crowned with success.
I cannot thank Dr Sinclair, my oncologist, and Mr Davis, my surgeon, and their teams enough for what they have done. Also, the staff of the various departments of the James Cook and Friarage hospitals for taking care of me. Eleven weeks later, I am now able to return to duty, if only for light tasks. My deputy had to replace me during the most active events, but I was determined to officiate on Remembrance Sunday, that was my goal. Unfortunately I couldn’t walk the whole way and had to use a car. But I did.
Richmond Mayor Bob White lays a wreath during the city’s Remembrance Sunday events this year
Now, the real reason for this article. If you are over 50, especially men, get tested regularly. If you develop something unusual, show it. Get cancer early and it can be treated. The worst thing you can do is sit down and think it’s going to go away. It might seem, but it won’t, it just gets bigger and bigger. Okay, the tests can be uncomfortable at times, but not painful. For prostate cancer, it is a simple blood test.
If you’ve been tested regularly like me and caught it early, it’s not the end of the world. It can be treated successfully. I am living proof of that, three times, and I am still here. Medical procedures and treatments have improved endlessly over the past few years. The test is simple and straightforward.
You can survive cancer if you catch it at an early stage. Get tested, get treatment and survive.