Russell Watson – Fighting For Life
Opera singer Russell Watson has said that he still plagued by fears that his tumour will return despite a positive prognosis from his doctors.
In an exclusive television interview for ITV1’s Tonight programme, Watson describes a terrifying incident several months ago where he thought he had gone blind.
Tonight has also gained exclusive access to a video diary showing Russell receiving his radiation therapy and where he describes his feelings about the treatment’s effects on his body and mental well-being.
Russell also talks about:
That before the first diagnosis that he had a benign tumour of the pituitary gland, Russell had a premonition that he would die before he turned 40
How he thought he was dying when he was rushed to hospital after his tumour grew back and started bleeding
How he has had a record studio built in his home to cut down on his travelling and that he believes that the album he is recording now could be the best one yet
His doctor’s prognosis for his future
Russell tells Tonight about how his illness has changed his life forever.
He says: ““I know that I’ll never ever be able to just get on with my life again. It’s always going to be there.
“There’s always going to be, every time I get a twinch or if my eye feels a bit funky or wonky yeah there’s always going be that fear.
“I think because maybe because of the second time there’s always that inbuilt fear that this thing could decide to come back at any point, so it’s something that I have to live with and that’s why I feel it’s so incredibly important to make the most of every single day, when I wake up in the morning, thank god, open the curtains, light, thank god. Whether it’s raining, whether it’s sunny it doesn’t matter, I’m alive.”
He describes one night several months ago when those fears caused him to think he had lost his sight. “That was so scary. I was upstairs and I was kind of, I was brushing my hair or something, I was looking in the mirror, okay, and all of a sudden bang, complete, complete blackout and I remember those words ringing in my ear, if you lose it (your sight), it will be complete blackout, you wont be able to see shadows, it will just be black, your optic nerve snaps, it’s gone and I just, I thought to myself oh my god, my optic nerve has gone, I am blind and I heard Rebecca shout up, it’s alright dad, the electric’s gone off and my heart was pounding out of my chest, I thought I’d gone, I thought I’d gone blind.”
A change of lifestyle
Tonight visits Russell at his home in Cheshire. While his daughters, 13-yr-old Rebecca and 7-yr-old Hannah are playing on the trampoline in the garden, Russell says: “My children… you know what I’m not sure whether … I’m not sure how I would have got through what I’ve gone through if the kids hadn’t been around.”
Russell has had a recording studio built at his home so that he can cut back on travelling and spend more time with this family.
“I can still maintain the family life that I want to maintain and I’m near the kids. I’m not having to travel you know to London or America or wherever, it means that I can still be here in my property, just walk across the way to the studio and everything, everything’s there, it’s literally just you know yards away.
“I get to make the record and then at the weekend I can see the children so I get the best of both worlds because that that was something that you know after, certainly after the second operation that I thought you know I want to spend more time around my family and friends that’s really important to me.”
Russell recently started recording songs during a trip to Spain and he says that singing again has been “emotionally uplifting.”
He hopes that his next album will be his best yet.
“The last two records I’ve made with a brain tumour and known about it, so I’ve been in the studio recording music. The first one when we went out to LA and didn’t tell anybody that I had the tumour, I kept it to myself because I thought they’ll be saying get home you daft sod. Then I started I went into Capital for four days and finished recording the record knowing that I wasn’t well and was still waiting for the results to find out whether the tumour was benign or malignant.
“I know well with my third record Reprise I recorded that with a lump on my vocal chord. So hopefully this’ll be the first kind of clear run.”
Russell on his illness
Before the first diagnosis that he had a tumour of the pituitary gland, situated behind his eyes, Russell had a premonition that he would die before he turned 40.
“I think as soon as the diagnosis was made, I think as soon as I had been told that was probably the moment where I thought, it was almost like me saying to myself, I knew it, I knew this was going to happen, I knew I wasn’t going to make the 40 mark. Damn.”
After an apparently remarkable recovery Russell was back in the recording studio in October 2007 when he began to feel unwell again.
He was rushed into hospital – the tumour was back.
He recalls the evening he was rushed to hospital: “It just felt that my head was going to explode and by 7 o’clock in the morning my bedroom light which was I don’t know, 3 or 4 feet above my head, I couldn’t see it, all I could see was like kaleidoscope, like a kaleidoscope, like there was a pane of glass in front of me and somebody had smashed this glass and it, it was just, I couldn’t make anything out, put my hand in front of my face and it was just fuzzy, what the hell is this because the tumour had, was bleeding at 4 points, I was haemorrhaging at 4 separate points and my temperature was almost at 40 degrees which is around the point where pyrexia kicks in and convulsions which would have been lights out for me with a tumour of that size, because the tumour would have just imploded
And I could hear people around, I was aware of people saying haemorrhage, theatre now and thinking oh my god, I’m dead and for the first time I think thought this whole experience, and it’s been two years in total but for the first time thinking, you know what, come and get me, come on, come and get me, I’m here, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s leave it now, I’ve had enough.”
Excerpts from Russell’s video dairies filmed during his treatment
But the thought of his children kept him going and after an emergency operation Russell came out of hospital to recuperate before beginning a course of radiotherapy to kill of the parts of the tumour that the surgeon couldn’t reach. During this treatment he recorded his thoughts in a video diary
Video diary: Chapter 1 – “Halfway through radiotherapy treatment now. Making me feel quiet tired in the evenings. Wasn’t too bad last time I spoke to the camera, this time its making me a bit tired and a bit short of breath and it’s made me a bit wheezy as well, I don’t know why, a by product of that, I don’t know why that is, but yes a little bit wheezy and today after holding out for three weeks, the first little bits of hair have started to fall out so, I was fiddling around with the side of my hair as I usually when I’m like playing pool or fooling around and I noticed a clump of hair in my hand. It’s funny cause I was talking to the nurse this morning and she says your hairs not started coming out- this is one that I’ve not seen for a week and I said no I’m hoping I’m going to make medical history and be the first person to have had radiotherapy to their head and keep their hair but unfortunately that’s not going to be the case, it started to fall out, so no medical history made on this occasion.”
Video diary: Chapter six – “I think for the children it’s been a difficult year, its been a difficult 12 months, because they’ve had to see me, in a condition that I don’t think that that’s something that any parent would want their child to see or experience and so I think they’ve seen a true a real, vulnerability with their father and a vulnerability that I never saw with my father when I was growing up. ..And I think in many ways that’s sad for them, but in many ways it’s nice because they’re very protective over me, they don’t want anyone coming near me.”
Video diary – “Now you may be able to detect a slight hint of hysteria in my voice today, and there is a good reason for that- it’s my last visit to the radio therapist, and as much as I do love the ladies down there at Christie’s, and the daily banter that I’ve been having with them for the last few weeks, I will be glad to see the back of the nuclear accelerator that I’ve been sitting in for the last month and a half.”
What his doctor says about his future
Tara Kearney at the Alexandra Hospital in Manchester says: “Of course two pituitary operations and a bleed into the pituitary have left Russell with pituitary failure, which means he’s now no longer able to make the hormones that you would normally make so he requires life long medication. Unfortunately, there was some tumour that the surgeon James Leggett wasn’t able to remove and so Russell had radiotherapy in January this year and the aim of that really is to try and shrink the tumour down and also to limit the growth of that remaining tumour in the future years.
“At the moment we haven’t had an MRI scan following the radiotherapy yes so we don’t know how much of the tumour is left, but we suspect at this stage that there will still be tumour left out to the side. And so our plan with that would be to monitor that and to make sure that it’s not growing back and in the future we could consider further surgery or radiotherapy if that was the case.”
Kearney, however, says that the ongoing treatment including drugs and injections to replace his cortisol and growth hormones means that Russell will have to modify his lifestyle.
“The reality of it is that he needs to take medication and he needs regular monitoring both in terms of bloods and in terms of scans. And for Russell I think that has quite a large emotional baggage with it. It’s not the case that you can sling everything into a bag and set off on your trips and whiz around the world and accept invitations, everything has to be planned you have to much more cautious. When you’re travelling abroad your eating out living in hotels the risk of him getting a tummy bug is quite high and that can be potentially life threatening for him because if he doesn’t absorb his cortisol he’ll become very unwell. So he’s has to learn to be a little bit more cautious, he’s had to learn to do things in a measured way and to plan for things in advance. Which I think his lifestyle before was quite erratic and quite yes that’s fine, say yes to everything and he certainly lived at 100 miles an hour I think it’s forced him to slow down.”
Russell Watson – Fighting For Life: Tonight airs Friday at 8pm on ITV1.