A vigilant voice

That Gary Turner should get throat cancer, as his voice is one of his greatest assets, was a cruel twist of fate. Gary does radio programs for places as far away as Nauru. He’s also a media and communications advisor, a Master of Ceremonies, and an actor.

Gary’s cancer journey began in 2018, and he has some advice for those who have stubborn health problems.

“I had some lumps on my neck and went to a GP who diagnosed it as being cysts and gave me some medication to fix it. One month after that it didn’t seem to be better, so I went back to the GP, and was advised, ‘We’ll do an ultrasound.’ It came back from the radiology place – same answer – cysts in the neck. I said, ‘What do we do,’ and was told, ‘It should go down by itself. We’ll keep an eye on it.’

“At that time, I was working for the Victorian government, I had my radio work going, I was working in acting as an extra, I was doing stories for the local paper; I was busy, and I didn’t think much of it. Six months later my wife, Deborah, noticed it was getting bigger. Then l had a coffee with a GP friend in Mount Eliza. He looked across the table at me, and he said, ‘You’ve got a bit of a raise on your neck there. What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s a bit of a cyst. It’s not going away. I’ve had medication, and I’ve had an ultrasound.’ He leaned over the table and asked if he could feel it. He put his hand on it and said, ‘I don’t like it.’ He picked up his phone and called a specialist at Masada Hospital in St Kilda, asking if he could squeeze me in.

“I saw that specialist, and he wasn’t happy either. He said, ‘I think you might have lymphoma.’ He sent me for a scan. I went back to see him, and he said, ‘You’ve got cancer in four of your lymph nodes, and it’s quite aggressive. We’re having a meeting next week, and we’re going to discuss it to see what we’re going to do.’ After that meeting, he called me and said, ‘I reckon we’ve found the primary.’ I said, ‘Where’s that?’ He said, ‘In your throat.’

“I nearly fell off my chair. Deborah came running from the kitchen. I said, ‘I’ve got throat cancer at the back of my tongue.’ It was five centimetres. I had been coughing a lot for about a year and a half, but I had no idea it was there.”

An oncologist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre said he believed he could treat Gary’s cancer without cutting it out by using chemotherapy and radiation.

“The first thing I said to the oncologist was, ‘What’s going to happen to my voice? Does that mean no more radio and MC work?’ He looked at me and said, ‘You might come out OK; you might come out with no voice.’ I was lucky because I actually came out with a deeper voice.” Gary still does his radio work but can’t talk for very long.

Gary’s seven-week treatment of both weekly chemotherapy and radiotherapy commenced immediately. Treatment meant Gary had to be fed through a tube in his stomach, and he suffered drastic weight loss. This caused him to be hospitalised twice when the tube came out, and he was burned by acid from his stomach. At one point, Gary felt he could not go on.

“I said, “I’m done. I’m not eating. I’m finished.”

He was willing to forgo treatment even if he died.

“I just thought I’d had enough. I didn’t want to put this on my family. I didn’t want to put this on my wife. I was done. I’m not scared of death. If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. I had got to the stage where I didn’t want to wake up tomorrow.”

Gary was hospitalised again. It took approximately two years for him to be declared cancer-free, and he will still have regular tests until March 2024.

“I always say to people, ‘Get a second opinion and do the research.’ No matter what you have. I had throat cancer, cancer of the lymph nodes, and it took a year for someone to finally say to me, “Gary, you’ve got cancer.”

Gary has wide-ranging contacts in the medical world, which began when he worked as Director of Media for the Republic of Nauru and was asked to locate and attract a range of Australian medical experts to come to the republic. He has continued to collect these contacts over the years and is happy to share them with anyone in need. However, he does recommend seeing your doctor first.

How does Gary feel about the doctor and radiologist who failed to diagnose his cancer? “I rang the doctor and the radiologist, but I got a lot of brick walls.

Photos: Garry Sissons & supplied.

“If you’ve got something and it’s not going away, get another opinion. A lot of people don’t like doing that because they have too much confidence in their GP or, I find, people can’t be bothered, or they don’t want to be impolite. I have family members who say they’re too busy. The most important thing for any person is their health. As my doctor says, ‘Don’t think you’re being a hypochondriac; you’re doing the right thing.’ I say to people, ‘The most important thing is to have regular blood tests.’

“Cancer, particularly, is a silent killer. If you’ve got the slightest thing wrong, get it seen to.”

Gary still has ongoing issues with his mental health and an unsteady gait from the treatment. He walks every day. He has a special bench in his garden in Mount Eliza where he sits to reflect and is grateful for his family but says he is not the same person that he was before his cancer.

“I cherish that I’ve got what I’ve got, and I wrap my arms around it and say, ‘The most important thing in my world is not my radio; it’s my family. Family is there for you. If I’ve got no family, there’s no me. I’m just grateful that I’m here.”

Gary pays it forward by leaving a bequest to Friends for Life for the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre.

You can hear his radio programme every Sunday morning on RPPFM 98.7 & 98.3 FM. He also records radio programmes for Power FM in Queensland, UGFM Eildon & Alexandra, and Radio Nauru, Republic of Nauru.

Insta: @radiojournalist

Peninsula Essence – January 2024