Bobby Kerr: Being diagnosed with cancer taught me that only three things really matter

The Down to Business presenter reflects on a difficult period as he prepares to return to the airwaves

I am probably typical of most men my age (55 years young) in that I hate anything to do with doctors. I would reluctantly go every two years or so for the general medical MOT but it was usually after quite a bit of badgering from the girls (all five of them in my life).

This year daughter three got so sick of me saying I hadn’t yet made the appointment that she booked it for me and I went off to my GP in July of this year. I had what I thought was a sore throat and a slightly swollen gland and the GP suggested that I should get a biopsy done on the swelling and revered me to a consultant in St Vincent’s hospital. He said it was probably nothing to worry about and said he would contact me when the results were back.

The news

My first inkling that there might be something wrong came when he asked to see me in person as soon as was practical. I arrived in his rooms and he came in (in his surgical gear) and sat down.

It was then I heard the dreaded words, I’m sorry to have to tell you this but you have cancer.

My whole world fell apart. I went out to ring my wife Mary, when she answered the phone I couldn’t speak, no words would come out but she knew what was wrong. When I finally got the words out I managed to tell her I had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Treatment

The next few weeks were a bit of a blur. I immediately researched who were the best people to make me better (if that was possible) and was referred to St James's hospital which is the center of excellence for this type of cancer and where you want to be.

I also learned that I would be able to have my treatment which would take seven weeks (35 radiation sessions and chemotherapy once a week for seven weeks) in St Luke’s Hospital which is affiliated to St James's. This was a smaller much more relaxed place than James which appealed to me greatly.

I didn’t start my treatment until the October 12th and I found this period particularly difficult because I didn’t know how sick I was or whether I was going to make it or not.

This was also a time that I had to share my illness with my daughters and my mother and brothers and sisters all of whom I am very close to which was very sad.

The reason for the wait was to my advantage however. It took a number of biopsies to establish where the primary cancer was (at the base of my tongue) which they only find in 66% of cases.

The second reason was to establish whether I had contacted the cancer by way of the HPV virus which in my case I had. The good news here is that if the cancer is by way of this virus the area requiring radiation treatment becomes much smaller, thus not damaging healthy tissue as often has to be done. The other reason is that when the treatment is applied to the cancer contracted via the virus the cancer never returns in 98% of cases. At last some good news.

The seven-week treatment started easy enough but got tougher each week. The radiation requires you to have treatment for 20 minutes a day, five days a week wearing a special mask which is like another layer of skin.

This is how you are clamped down to the table - not for the faint-hearted if you are claustrophobic. However, you do get used to it and playing some Pink Floyd at 120 decibels eased the tension a bit.

I also decided to work for as long as I could during the treatment, ultimately I felt it would make the overall process psychologically shorter. So I worked until early November which in hindsight was probably a week or 10 days too long as I was getting fairly sick when still working.

I decided that my last radio broadcast would be November 7th and I would take eight to 10 weeks off to get myself better. I also decided to tell people at the end of the broadcast that I was unwell and would be going away for a while which was always going to be difficult and emotional.

I was glad I did it because I was able to tell people in my own way what was wrong with me and I could ask for space and time to get better which I was delighted to get.

I also decide to take the opportunity on air that day to thank the people in my life who mean so much to me and to use my broadcasting platform (which I am so fortunate to have) to remind men to go out and get themselves checked, because they like me could be lucky and catch something early.

So I laid low for most of November and December. After week seven when I finished the treatment was the worst part. I was admitted to St Luke’s from the end of November for three weeks and got out just before Christmas.

I was home for Christmas and managed to cook the turkey on the BBQ as I always do but I wasn’t able to eat any Christmas dinner (who cares I was there being waited on hand and food by the girls and as a fella said to me “It’s only a day Bobby”) and wasn’t able for my usual swim in the 40 foot.

So I’m back on air on Saturday the 16th and I am “rearing” to go - here's what I have learned from this experience:

1. I now firmly believe only 3 things in life matter health, family, and good friends. I have been touched and spurred on by the thousands of people who prayed for me, wrote to me and contacted me to wish me well. As long as I have these 3 things I could start again in the morning and feel I can deal with almost anything that is thrown at me.

2. We only hear bad HSE stories. I have a good one and want to express my absolute gratitude who looked after me so well in St Luke’s, St James's and the Eye and Ear hospitals.

3. People are fundamentally decent and you can really see so much goodness and love from people when you get sick.

4. Life goes on without you. Thanks to the wonderful people in Insomnia, Bang, and Newstalk who keep the show on the road. We all think we are indispensable and we are not.

5. Life is short and for living – I was always a believer in living life to the full. When ill health comes a knocking on the door it makes me realise how much more life there is to live and given the chance it’s my intention to partake in every aspect of it 

So get out there, get yourself checked, Love and be loved and enjoy life to the fullest because none of us know how long we have left on this wonderful planet.

Bobby is back on Down to Business from 10:00am, on Saturday, January 16th on air and online.
As ever, you can find blog posts and weekly DTB highlights on our show page.