CASUALTY STAR SIMON TALKS MOVINGLY OF THREE YEAR BATTLE WITH CANCER
CASUALTY star Simon MacCorkindale today reveals his secret THREE YEAR battle against cancer—and tells how he aims to beat the disease.
Tenderly holding hands with actress wife Susan George, the TV heart-throb recalls how a REAL doctor working on the BBC hospital drama first spotted his symptoms early and urged him to get a check-up.
And despite being given only five years to live in May 2006, defiant Simon, 57, vows: “I’m going nowhere. I don’t think about a day when it comes to an end.
“It’s not happening. It’s just a bloody nuisance.
“I don’t want people to think I’m sitting here pale, losing weight and my hair and on the way out. I’m not. I’m as active as I’ve ever been.”
In a moving and at times tearful interview the star couple also reveal how they are using a mix of different therapies and treatments to fight the cancer after it spread from Simon’s bowel to his lungs.
And, while staying positive, they also talk of their darkest hours as Simon faced up to the bombshell diagnosis he has hidden from fans until now.
International film actress Susan-best known for her role alongside Dustin Hoffman in 1971 movie Straw Dogs—says: “I can’t remember many more painful things in my life, other than losing people. I’ve lost family members, and everyone of those situations has been unbearably painful, and I saw this immediately as unbearable too. But it’s the only time we’ve doubted.”
Simon’s illness began at the peak of his career on Casualty playing hospital consultant Harry Harper in June, 2006. He felt unwell during a scene with fellow actors Liz Carling, playing Dr Selena Donovan, and Ben Price, playing Holby’s corporate director Nathan Spencer.
“I started to get a very gripey feeling in my tummy, went as pale as a sheet and broke out in a sweat,” says Simon.
“They asked me if I was all right. I thought if anything it might be a touch of gastroenteritis.” He thought nothing of it. “I’ve always been very fit. I’d rarely had the flu, and I’d not had a day off work in my entire career,” he says.
Simon went to his hotel room to sleep it off—but news of his sickness reached a real-life doctor on the set of Casualty, one of many on-hand to advise actors on pronouncing medical terms, and carrying out procedures.
The doctor gave him some tests which revealed he was slightly anemic-but the concerned medic referred him to a consultant for a bowel examination.
As Simon lay recovering from the colonoscopy, the consultant delivered a shock diagnosis.
Simon says: “He came to see me and said, Well this has come as a bit of a surprise. I’ve come to tell you have early stage malignant tumour in the colon’.
“He told me we’d caught it early and there were no immediate signs of it getting out and about, so with surgery, he could whip out a length of colon, stitch me back up again, and it would be fine.
“I feel now that I was a very lucky boy. If I hadn’t been working on Casualty I might never have been checked.” But for Susan the news was a raw body blow that day as he walked into the same room at their home where they are giving their interview.
She says: “I asked, ‘How was it?’ He said, ‘It’s not great-I have a tumour’. I was incredibly shocked and frightened.”
Simon adds: “Susan was desperately upset at first, but pretty soon we both resolved that we would beat this.
“We took the lucky approach. We still feel very lucky.”
They vowed to keep it secret from all but closest family and friends and Simon scheduled his surgery for a two-week gap in Casualty’s filming, despite doctors recommending he take ten to 12 weeks to recover. In the four-hour op, a two-foot section of his bowel containing the tumour was removed. Further tests at first indicated it had not spread-even though some small mystery specks were showing on his lungs.
Doctors decided to carry out regular CT scans to keep an eye on them—and Simon returned to working six days a week at Casualty before taking a six-month break from the show at Christmas, when his character Harry left Holby to pursue a political career.
But rather than rest, Simon went on a five-month touring production of the Agatha Christie play The Unexpected Guest. Little changed until, on May 29, 2007 Simon and Susan’s world was shattered. Simon says: “I went for the result of my latest scan, and to show just how blase we were about it by then, I went to the oncologist on my own on my way to work. We really thought it would be fine.
“But he said to me, ‘It’s not good. The spots on the lungs have grown’.”
The specialist’s diagnosis was that it was cancer but that the spots had to develop before they could carry out a biopsy to confirm it. Simon asked how long he had. “I said, ‘What does it mean? have we got 20, 10, five years? He said, ‘Probably, five years’.
He turns to Susan and says: “That wasn’t a good day, was it Darling?” Her eyes fill with tears. “He came home and walked in here and I asked what had happened. He told me and I said, ‘No, that can’t be’.
“I remember he sat on the sofa, I sat on the floor between his knees and we talked, and we fell into one another’s arms, and we cried. We cried lots.”
Incredibly, the couple resolved to stay positive and fight. Simon adds: “We just said we are going to beat this.” The very next day ex-rugby player Simon switched to a macrobiotic diet, cutting out foods including meat, wheat, dairy, refined sugars, and acids, for those such as rices, pulses, and vegetables. The lifestyle has been credited with health benefits in cancer patients. Since their black day they’ve refused to accept the specialist’s view that Simon had “five years” left.
Susan says: “It is the one thing that sticks out in my mind all the time. I want to get these words out of my head. It was the lowest point.”
Simon—son of an RAF station commander—is typically direct. “It’s not something I’ve noted down the date for,” he smiles. “I’ve brushed it aside. I have in my files a letter where he’s written it. So it’s in print.” He went back to work at Casualty for his last series in late 2007. Simon-still keeping his illness secret-says: “There were times, playing a doctor in Casualty, I had to act as if I was telling someone they had cancer, or a terminal disease. That was a cracker.”
A non-smoker and a moderate drinker, Simon-who practices yoga-found himself “roaring with energy”. He says: “It was a waiting game to see what would happen.”
During all this the couple began reading up on a range of treatments, including Iscador treatment using mistletoe, photodynamic therapy, and spiritual healing.
In March 2008, a biopsy showed the lung spots were secondary cancer. For Simon it marked his lowest point. “It was the worst day,” he says. “I was away from home touring when I found out. For three days I didn’t tell Susan. I couldn’t tell her over the phone. I needed to tell her in person.” But despite everything, he refused to give up, and in August 2008, made a return to the stage as Captain Georg Von Trapp in the hit West End show of Sound of Music.
In January this year, Simon flew to Dubai for sessions with a Pranic healer, a system of ‘energy medicine’. He began using plant medicines, including herbs from the Amazon.
He also underwent a 12-week stint of intensive homeopathy mixed with low-dose chemotherapy. .His regime seemed to work, and in June a scan showed the cancer growth had stopped. Susan says: “People might say we are away with the pixies trying these, but we know it works.”
Feeling optimistic, they continued their relentless pursuit of new treatments and information. “We were very blessed, being guided to remarkable experts,” says Simon. Now the couple have switched to a new team at the London Oncology Clinic, using a renowned specialist, a nutritionist and homeopathist.
Simon said: “His words, the best words for a long time, were, ‘What you have now is not life-threatening at the moment.’ He has confirmed my belief this can be dealt with.”
The star has begun a six-month course of 12 chemotherapy treatments and is feeling strong. His love for Susan is as strong as ever too and in October, the couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
Simon has turned down further theatre work to be at home. He is helping to compile Susan’s autobiography. For years he has wanted her to write about her fascinating life in Hollywood, her love of horses, helping with their stud farm and her Equine Photography business.
Both are convinced Simon can win his fight. Susan says: “I believe, you know, I really believe. And I’m so 100 per cent positive. I just have a few lonely times, when I cry out from inside.”
They are relieved to have finally spoken about the cancer. “The pressure of this secret has been enormous,” says Simon. “But things creep out, and at least this way we can tell people in our own words.
“More people are surviving. And I want to tell people to be open minded. To look at other therapies.
“We have faced on a certain level what happens if one of us is left on their own, but our view is it just ain’t going to happen.”
“It may be selfish but until I feel as though I’m losing—and I’ll have to be in a pretty bad way for that to happen-I won’t do.”
Susan gently puts her hand on his arm “Rather than you don’t feel you’re losing, you know that we’re winning,” she says.