October 26, 2016

Peter Stringfellow: I feel so guilty for keeping my cancer a secret


PETER Stringfellow does not come across as the type to be burdened by regrets.

The 75-year-old Sheffield-born lad who made good in the world of nightclubs has lived life to the full, rubbing shoulders with countless celebrities while carving out his own success.

But there is one thing that troubles him as he looks back on his recent health history.

It was the decision to keep secret the lung cancer diagnosis which he received in 2008.

Shocked by the unexpected news, lifelong non-smoker Peter told only a handful of very close family members and friends.

But he ordered a total press blackout to avoid attracting unwanted attention as another cancer patient.

The news only leaked out last year, nearly six years after doctors found a life-threatening tumour in his lungs.

“I do feel guilty about not telling the press at the time,” says Peter, who with former ballerina wife Bella, 33, has two young children Rosabella, two, and Angelo, three months.

“But I didn’t want to be known as ‘poor old Pete who had cancer’. I think I just wanted to avoid all the sympathy.

“But every year since I have felt more and more guilty because, if I had made it known more widely, there’s a chance I might have been able to help other men in a similar position.”

His secrecy over cancer is especially poignant, given the recent deaths of rock star David Bowie and Hollywood actor Alan Rickman from tumours which they had not made public.

But there’s another reason for talking openly about the difficulties faced by people of a similar age who are lucky enough to survive cancer or other serious diseases.

It’s the problem of securing travel insurance.

Cancer Research UK says many high street travel insurance firms will only sell insurance if cancer survivors have a doctor’s certificate confirming they no longer have the disease and are fit enough to travel.

It says: “Insurance companies differ on how long you must be free of cancer before they will issue you a policy.

“Some say three months, some 12 months.

“And some will not cover you unless you have been cancer free for 10 years. If you have finished treatment quite recently, be prepared that rates will be higher.”

Stringfellow is fronting an advertising campaign by Essex-based insurer Avanti targeting older high-risk customers who have medical conditions which mean they are unable to get cover elsewhere.

“I’ve never used my name to advertise anything,” says Peter.

“But this is a real problem for what I call the ‘New Agers’, older people who want to continue living their lives.”

Aside from a knee replacement back in the 1970s and some inevitable age-related hearing loss, the nightclub mogul enjoyed generally good health until 2008.

But having seen friends of a similar age diagnosed with prostate cancer he decided it would be sensible to be checked.

“I have two young children so I have no problem going to see a doctor. I’m no hypochondriac but I’m smart enough to know not to hang around if you are worried about something.”

Doctors agreed to operate in order to perform a biopsy, taking small amounts of tissue for testing.

But they made it clear that if the tumour looked suspicious during the procedure they would remove the whole thing.

“When I woke up Bella was by my bed holding my hand,” says Peter.

“I felt very sore. It turned out it was malignant and surgeons had removed half my lung and a rib in order to get to the tumour.

“They said if I had waited until I had symptoms, such as a persistent cough or chest pain, it would almost certainly have been too late.

“Once symptoms are noticeable it’s usually too far gone.

“It took a while to recover from the surgery. But the only people who knew were my doctors, Bella and one or two very close friends.

“Anybody else who asked was told I had just been out of action with a bad infection or flu.

“Now I just feel incredibly lucky to be alive.”

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