Jono Coleman: My Cancer’s Back, But I’m Very Positive About The New Treatment
Jono Coleman has a message for men: don't stick your head in the sand.
Especially when it comes to your health.
About six months ago, the beloved TV and radio presenter learned his prostate cancer had come back.
"It was sort of like being in a movie," he said. "Like The Big Sick. You go, 'Seriously?' I thought it was all gone."
But when his doctors told him the sobering news, the Studio 10 star -- who spends his Fridays sending TV audiences into hysterics with his silly gags, fun-loving antics, outrageous skits and infectious optimism -- stayed positive.
"You just get over it, because life's like that," he said. "You get thrown curveballs. If they'd suddenly said, 'we've got some bad news for you, you've got two hours to live' -- it wasn't one of those. It wasn't like, 'get your things in order'.
"So I was annoyed. But then: 'what do we need to do next?'"
He soon dealt the blow to his wife Margot and children Emily and Oscar.
"I just said, 'we've got a little bit of a roadblock'. And they go, 'why?' And then: 'right, what do we need to do, and when do we need to start?'"
Jono is focusing on the fact that his cancer -- which has now spread to his lower back bone and shoulder -- is treatable. He's quick to tell you he's "very lucky".
He was first diagnosed in June 2017, after his GP messaged him with some worrying blood test results. A specialist confirmed he had prostate cancer, and that it had already spread to some soft tissue and some bone. He was put on chemotherapy and radiotherapy straight away.
For months, he remained publicly silent, still drumming up the laughs on Studio 10, all while spending his Friday afternoons at St Vincent's Kinghorn Cancer Centre receiving treatment. He wore an 'ice cap' on his head to induce 'scalp hypothermia', swallowing a couple of paracetamol for the pain, in a (successful) bid to save his thick head of hair. He'd have two days to recover, "then I'd be right for Monday morning," he said.
In December that year, he was finally given a clean bill of health. Several months later, he went public with his cancer battle in a Studio 10 segment, bringing his co-panellists to tears. But despite being cancer-free, Jono was warned that regular check-ups were essential.
"You can't just go, 'oh well that's cancer out of the way'," he said. "You’ve got to be vigilant. You can't just think that it's gone, just because it's gone from the prostate. It could then reinvent itself."
Unfortunately, it has.
Now, the 63-year-old star, who made his Channel 10 debut in 1980 with kids' show Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, is committing himself to his health, and is urging men to do the same with Movember -- the men's health charity dedicated to stamping out men's cancers and tackling men's mental health and suicide.
"Before," he said, "I would be the guy who put everything off... I didn't even know where the prostate was. Since my diagnosis, I've had so many different blood tests and bone tests and PET scans.
"Don't just sit there stewing on your own going, 'oh yeah, I'll get around to that after Christmas'... talk to somebody, and it's as simple as getting a blood test."
Through regular exercise and a diet overhaul -- eliminating most carbs and sugar, which, he said, the cancer thrives on -- Jono has shed an incredible 22 kilos, all while receiving radiotherapy and drug treatments.
"I want to get below 100 kilos for Christmas," he said, adding he's now hovering at about 101. "I've got a tuxedo that Channel 7 bought me for a late night TV show in 1988 -- it's actually slightly large on me."
His Studio 10 costumes are fitting much better too, including the jockey outfit he sported on Friday's show, ahead of the Melbourne Cup. He says it feels great to be lighter on his feet.
As for his prognosis...
"We just have to be very positive. I'm a very positive person," he said. "I'm having the radiotherapy, and if I need anything else, I’ll do it. If I need chemo, then I’ll have chemo, whatever it takes."
Despite the challenges, Jono's operating on a platform of positivity, practicality, and putting things into perspective.
"I think everybody has darker thoughts," he said. "But even just by going up to St Vincent's, 99 percent of the people up there have got their own story to tell -- and they're in worse situations than me."
He also credits the successes he's had in his battle to modern technology and advances in medicine.
"We're so lucky that we're in 2019," he said. "Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer -- it's a different kettle of fish."
Men aged over 50 are urged to start talking to their doctors about prostate cancer checks -- when caught early, there's a 98 percent chance of survival. If the cancer is discovered late, the survival rate drops to below 26 percent. Nine Australian men die from prostate cancer, the second most common cancer among men, every day -- and it's all the more common in men with a family history. But it can be detected with a simple blood test.
As an ambassador for Movember, Jono's determined to spread that message. He's leading by example, committing himself to the 'Move for Movember' challenge in lieu of growing a mo, which he says "I'm hopeless at". Instead, he's pledged to move himself at least 60km in the month of November, by walking, running or swimming. Money raised goes towards men's mental health, cancer research and drug trials -- including trials Jono is benefiting from himself.
"That's the great thing about Movember -- they donate heaps of money for drug trials," he said. While he's been very lucky, people who can't afford to pay for the drugs are given life-saving access via funds raised through Movember initiatives.
Along with his work with the men's health charity, it's been the support of his family and his close Channel 10 friends and colleagues that has helped him navigate the difficult parts of his cancer journey.
When the disease first reared its ugly head in 2017, Jono decided to keep his battle secret, aside from confiding in a few close colleagues -- Angela Bishop and Barry Du Bois, whose lives had both been touched by cancer -- and Studio 10 co-hosts Sarah Harris and Joe Hildebrand.
"They've been fantastic," he said. "Because of what Angela has been through with her husband, and Baz has been through a lot of s*it as well... [he's] always been somebody I can talk to."
He's also had the support of his mum and dad, even though they have both passed. In 'spooky moments' since his diagnosis, he says he can feel their presence, and he knows they're still with him.
"I got into the car after having some treatment, and 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' came on the radio. Mum always used to say, 'could you play me some Stevie Wonder? 'I Just Called To Say I Love You'?' I was like 'wow, that's weird -- hello Mum!'"
Since the cancer re-emerged, he said he's had those types of moments "all the time".
"I was in the swimming pool the other day, and there's these two kookaburras who come down and sit near me when I'm in the water," he said. "And I go, 'it's Mum and Dad who have come to watch over me.'"
Jono's family lost his father in the late 1980s after he suffered a heart attack.
"Unfortunately, my dad wasn't around to be there when Margot and I got married, he never saw our two kids -- and so that part of me is probably more deep-thinking about, not so much my cancer prognosis, but more like, 'I wish Dad had got to see Oscar and Emily', or 'I wish Dad had been there for the wedding', things like that.
"You miss your parents every day when they're not around."
Jono's now focussed on continuing to be there for his own kids, prioritising his health while he fights his cancer, and being an example to others through his charity work and through causes like Movember.
And if he could say one thing to other men?
"Just don't stick your head in the sand [when it comes to your health]. Australian men are like 'yeah, I'll be right, I'm sort of bulletproof. I'm not gonna see the quack.' They'll go and see the doctor, but it's not a high priority.
"Just do something, if you're a bloke and you're worried. Go and see your GP or get a blood test. It's as simple as that."
This November, Movember returns with its annual month-long fundraiser challenging men across Australia to grow a moustache, raising awareness and funds for men’s health issues. You can find more information about Movember, men's cancers and mental health here.