Cancer will probably get me in the end, says George Alagiah

The BBC newsreader George Alagiah has said he feels lucky for the life he has lived even though cancer will “probably get me in the end”.

Alagiah, 66, was first diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in April 2014, which subsequently spread to his lungs, liver and lymph nodes, and he announced in October he was taking a break from his presenting duties as he deals with “a further spread of cancer”.

In a conversation with Craig Oliver, a former Downing Street director of communications, Alagiah discussed living with the disease.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to get rid of this thing. I’ve got the cancer still. It’s growing very slowly,” he said in an interview for Oliver’s podcast, Desperately Seeking Wisdom.

“My doctor’s very good at every now and again hitting me with a big red bus full of drugs, because the whole point about cancer is it bloody finds a way through and it gets you in the end.

“Probably … it will get me in the end. I’m hoping it’s a long time from now, but I’m very lucky.”

The presenter said he would never wish he had cancer, but he would not give back the years he had lived with it because he had learned so much. He added his cancer diagnosis had helped him to figure out what was important in his life. “I had to stop and say, ‘Hang on a minute. If the full stop came now, would my life have been a failure?’

“And actually, when I look back and I looked at my journey … the family I had, the opportunities my family had, the great good fortune to bump into [Frances Robathan], who’s now been my wife and lover for all these years, the kids that we brought up … it didn’t feel like a failure.”

Alagiah was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and attended primary school in Ghana before attending secondary school in Portsmouth and studying at Durham university.

He joined the BBC in 1989 and, before becoming a presenter, worked as a foreign correspondent, reporting on events including the Rwandan genocide, and interviewing Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his role as a specialist on Africa and the developing world.

Asked what piece of wisdom he would give, he said: “I think it would be to constantly ask the question, ‘What is it we can do together?’

“I spent a lot of my time in Africa, and in South Africa they have a word: ubuntu. It’s the idea that I’m only human if I recognise the humanity in you. There’s this collective notion of life which I think we have lost.”

The podcast episode is released on 3 January.




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