Dame Esther Rantzen: ‘I’m making the most of every day’

dame Esther rantzen

by Alison James |
Updated on

The Yours Members site has all the latest from the magazine, including exclusive celebrity interviews like this honest and open chat with Dame Esther Rantzen, who received the shattering news she was suffering from stage four lung cancer earlier this year, yet is determined to focus on the positives...

It was early in the new year that Esther Rantzen noticed a small lump in her armpit. She thought she may have been bitten by something but, to be on the safe side, consulted her doctor.

“My GP reassured me it was probably a cyst, but said as a matter of routine she would refer me to a ‘one-stop shop’ breast cancer clinic in our excellent local hospital,” Esther recalls. “I went for my appointment and was introduced to a consultant, who drew a biro circle round the lump and sent me next door for a mammogram (which was clear) and a biopsy. The radiologist who did the biopsy dug a large hole in some lymph nodes she found and told me there was more than one, so I knew it wasn’t a cyst.

"Back I went to the consultant, who said he wanted me to have a full-body CT scan next. And the scan revealed that I have lung cancer, which has spread here and there, including my armpit. I was astonished. I am an evangelical non-smoker and gave up smoking 50 years ago. However, it turns out there are other kinds of lung cancer that are not smoking-related. And I’ve got one of those – as the biopsy results on the lump later confirmed. It’s not curable, but it can be held back.” Esther immediately told close family and friends and had not intended to reveal all to a wider audience. But she changed her mind.

"On my way to one of the scans in the hospital I was recognised by another patient. Admittedly, she thought I was Angela Rippon, but that was fairly close, and it made me realise that one way or another the news would leak, probably inaccurately. I’ve learnt that trying to keep a secret never works. It just means you are caught unprepared and on the back foot. Far better to break a piece of news yourself. So, I sent messages to my extended family and my friends and colleagues, plus I put out a statement. The response has been overwhelming.”

Would she say her diagnosis has changed her?

“I suppose I now know what I’ll die of, unless I walk in front of a bus or meet a hungry lion, both equally unlikely in my part of the New Forest,” she tells us. “So now I’m making the most of each day, usually by sitting in my garden when the weather allows, enjoying the fresh air, the birds and the summer flowers.”

She also feels having cancer has taught her an important lesson about life.

“A major, major lesson. If someone is important to you, spend time with them. Nothing else compares with that. I have colleagues who say the crucial thing in their life is their work and they want to drop dead working. I admire them for it, but that has never been my ambition. I’ve been incredibly lucky: my work has been fun, exciting and rewarding. But happiness is what counts for me. I want to die happy, and happiness means the company of my nearest and dearest. So, cancer has taught me a crucial lesson. Prioritise.”

Read more about Angela's diagnosis and her hopes for the future of her beloved five grandchildren in the full article on the Yours members site.


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