The week in radio: Richard Bacon's uplifting broadcast from the cancer ward


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The Independent Culture

"Hear the inspiring story of the man with terminal cancer who achieved his goal as a magician and comedian," went the blurb for Richard Bacon's show on BBC Radio 5 Live. Oh God, I thought. Must we? You see, I had imagined, in a cynical moment, a kind of queasy Bucket List-style scenario in which a pale-faced man in surgical gowns and smothered in tubing is wheeled on to a stage in order to pull a rabbit out of a hat for the last time as the audience howl in tear-stained approval, possibly with choirs of angels looking on.

But, of course, it wasn't like that. This is because cancer isn't like a bad Hollywood movie script and even when Steve Evans was at his chirpiest – and, for a man whose only certainty is that his tumour is going to finish him off, he is ridiculously, relentlessly chirpy – the uphill struggle of a life spent at the mercy of the medical profession and your own failing body, was clear.

Evans has stomach cancer that is inoperable. He is currently in palliative care, which means the doctors in charge of him are there to make his remaining months as comfortable as they can be. A year ago, Evans asked doctors to see if they could keep him alive for 12 months until 5 September, when he was due to compere a convention for the International Brotherhood of Magicians (yes, such a thing exists) in Buxton, Derbyshire.

Five months ago he called Richard Bacon's show and talked about his treatment, his life expectancy and his ever-changing definition of hope. Such was his ability to articulate his experience – without rage or self-pity but cold, hard facts – that, a few weeks later, Bacon upped sticks and went to Evans's home in Wolverhampton, broadcasting from his back yard.

This week brought an update of sorts, letting Bacon's now emotionally invested listeners know that, yes, Evans had made it to Buxton. In fact, he had taken half of Bacon's production team with him and agreed to be interviewed after the show, knackered but still chipper. "It's a hard job at the moment keeping this body going," he said, revealing that he was having difficulties with his blood, his bone marrow and his ability to eat.

On Monday, he was in Wolverhampton's New Cross hospital having a transfusion to help fix the problem of his low blood count, but, incredibly, he was still keen to talk to Bacon from his hospital bed.

He talked a lot about his "journey" and the "humbling" care shown to him by doctors and nurses and how he was "blessed" to have his friends and family, and only once allowed the horror of his situation to bubble over, declaring "cancer is just appalling". He could, it has to be said, waffle on a bit and, somewhat surprisingly, Bacon let him, overlooking the opportunity to ask more searching questions about his immediate future, about how his family were coping and his treatment within an institution under political and financial fire.

Meanwhile, you sensed that the fact of Evans's participation on a national radio show was providing a psychological boost and his joie de vivre depended, to an extent, on his moment in the limelight. But even with this uncomfortable knowledge, the presence of this dying man on an afternoon radio show was oddly joyful. And as anyone has has a terminal illness, or who has cared for someone with a terminal illness knows, there is rarely much in the way of joy.