IN AN INSPIRING AND FRANK INTERVIEW
SIMON MACCORKINDALE AND SUSAN GEORGE
TELL WHY THEY ARE FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE AS THEY TACKLE HIS ILLNESS TOGETHER
‘Simon is not dying of cancer – he’s living with it, That’s really important’
Actor Simon MacCorkindale is looking a picture of health, riding his quad bike across the Exmoor farm he shares with his actress wife Susan George. His rosy cheeks and positive energy make the knowledge that he is battling cancer all the harder to comprehend.
It was only last month that former Casualty star Simon, 57, revealed the secret he’d been harbouring for three and a half years. During that time, he’d thrown himself into a grueling work schedule. A schedule he now admits was ridiculous given that, when not filming the BBC medical drama, he was undergoing surgery for bowel cancer.
After that, he took on two national tours and the exacting role of Captain Georg Von Trapp in The Sound of Music in the West End, while quietly coping with the knowledge that the cancer had spread to his lungs.
But Simon is not the sort of character to sit and brood over what life throws at him.
Being told he may have only five years to live has made him all the more determined to confound the doctors’ prognosis.
“There’s not a single cancer that exists that someone hasn’t survived, so therefore nothing is incurable,” he says in his distinctive deep voice
“Never underestimate the power of the mind and spirit.”
This positive approach, coupled with homeopathic treatments and a macrobiotic diet has, he says, yielded significant results.
“I have rarely felt fitter or had more energy,” he says. But, right now, he has reduced his workload as he undergoes a six-month course of chemotherapy, a treatment that he believes will shrink the cancer and stop it spreading.
At his side is his beautiful wife of 25 years Susan, 59, who starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in the 1971 film Straw Dogs, was once voted the sexiest woman in the world and was rumoured to have stepped out with the Prince of Wales. She has faced up to the challenge as dauntlessly as Simon, exploring myriad alternative therapies and drawing up a detailed plan of action.
“We believe there is a solution to all this and we’re going to work our way through it. It’s not in our nature to think negatively,” she says firmly.
Over the next six months, Simon will devote more of his time to helping Susan run their successful stud farm of 60 Arabian horses on Exmoor. “It’s a very outdoorsy life and we love it,” Susan says. “We’ll ride out together and go for long walks, and there surely can’t be better therapy than that” Time will also be spent helping Susan write her autobiography – chronicling her Hollywood days – which she hopes will be published next year.
Here, the couple speak movingly to HELLO! of their hopes and fears surrounding Simon’s illness and of their absolute determination to come through it together…
What finally made you take the decision to go public about your illness, Simon, having kept it secret for three years?
“There was considerable concern about the impact on one’s career because I was, and still am, fit and capable. As soon as you declare you’ve got something wrong, issues arise when filming and suddenly you become potentially unemployable. The timing didn’t seem right to tell everyone I wasn’t well, because I was worried the phone would suddenly stop ringing. But gradually I felt there was a bit of a creeping whispers thing going on, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to come clean.'”
Susan: “We are also extremely truthful people in life, so keeping such a secret was becoming a terrible weight for both of us. We constantly had to skirt the truth – even when it came to people asking us why Simon was on his macrobiotic diet.”
Simon.: “We definitely were. I did have to back out of a charity engagement recently after I had my first chemo treatment and was advised to take it easy until I knew how I would be affected, so I lied as to why I couldn’t do it I felt pretty grim about that I was phoning a chum asking if he could stand in for me and lying to him too. It struck me it was disrespectful to everyone.”
Su: “Since the truth has come out, the outpouring from friends of love and prayers has been extraordinary. People we’ve never met have sent messages and ideas for cures – it’s been incredible.”
So you’re relieved that it’s all out in the open…
Si: “Considerably. We can now talk about the different treatments I’ve tried and studied over the last three years. I am now in a position to answer any questions people may have.”
Su: “Knowing that people care and are thinking of us is really healthy and good for a fantastic recovery.”
Do you see a connection between your state of mind and the disease?
Si: “I think my personality probably has something to do with it. I have always hated letting people down and have a huge work ethic, I have always set myself high standards; then, as soon as I reached a particular bar, I’d raise the blasted thing. I suspect the perpetual disease in my personality may have ultimately become the disease that I’ve ended up having to live with.”
Su: “He needs to let go of feeling that maybe he’s disappointed somebody and just be comfortable with himself and all he’s doing. But that’s the person he is, and that’s who I fell in love with 25 years ago.”
Si: “Susan’s support is unbelievable and her caring and love has bought us even closer together. I couldn’t have coped without her, and it has bound us together in a particular way. I try to think positive – that it’s something which is part of our life and that we have to deal with. For Susan it’s been in many ways a tougher journey.”
How did you first learn of your illness, back in 2006?
“I literally felt rotten one morning in mid-June, and by mid-August I’d had part of my colon out. I didn’t have any treatment other than surgery. No pills, no radiotherapy or chemotherapy, not even an antibiotic. All we got was the diagnosis that it was bowel cancer and that it had luckily been caught in time. Scans showed there was something on my lungs that needed to be watched, but I felt great and got on with my heavy workload.”
When did you discover it had spread to your lungs?
“It was May 2007 when I got the news that this cancer was in my lungs and was probably incurable. Initially the doctors couldn’t do a satisfactory biopsy. Then, in May last year, I had the biopsy that finally confirmed the diagnosis that it was bowel cancer in the lung.”
It must have been devastating…
“It was like being hit by a truck. I’m quite strong, but I have to say it did take my breath away. I kept stopping and thinking, ‘What have I just heard?’ Then I sat in the car for 20 minutes wondering, ‘How am I going to deal with this?’ I thought it through and then decided, ‘Okay, this is what we do next’
“There were days working on Casualty which were seriously bizarre. Maybe there was some synchronicity between playing a doctor on TV for six years and getting a disease I could talk about at some point and perhaps be of use to sufferers. I thought, ‘Maybe this is what it’s all about'”
“We both hate that word… But it does give you a kick up the pants, warning you not to put things on the back burner, to take them more seriously. You grow up, which is not altogether a bad thing. When you’re told you have five years to live, you can’t quite get that out of your head, however stoical you are. But you also know that, like a lot of clinical diagnoses, it is based on statistics. At the same time, attitude is everything.”
Su: “I want to say something really important: Simon is not dying of cancer, he is living with it”
How important do you think your mental attitude has been, Susan?
“Never underestimate the power of the mind, because it plays such an important role in everything we do. Positivity is everything. Letting go is very important. We are also trying to consider ourselves a bit more. Doing things for Simon is what my life’s all about now… whatever I can do, I will do.”
Si: “We both look at each day as it comes. That’s the way we’ve always been. We don’t know what lies before us, no one does. Having a positive attitude has been absolutely critical, if for no other reason than I’ve sustained a workload that was by anybody’s standards ridiculous.”
You continued to work throughout your treatment, including a role in The Sound of Music…
Su: “It was a huge challenge for Simon to be singing on stage for the first time… it was an amazing feat.”
Si: “And with lung cancer, it was particularly interesting.”
How do you keep so upbeat?
“Going around feeling sorry for yourself does you no good at all. A good laugh does wonders.”
Is there a bitterness that this shouldn’t have happened to you?
Su: “From Simon yes, and there is anger.”
Si: “It has just got in the way of things we were planning and doing, and I’m angry about it restricting us. The anger isn’t good, it’s not healthy and, unfortunately, there were moments when that anger was taken out at home, particularly when no one else knew what we were going through. We’ve always lived a healthy lifestyle, kept fit and done yoga together for 20 years. I rarely ate particularly rich foods, didn’t smoke and drank in moderation. There was nothing excessive at all, so to have my body break down was the last thing in the world I expected.”
In what way do you think having this disease has changed you and your perspective on life?
“I get tired now and I suppose I have to realise that I’m not indestructible, which has been a bit of an eye opener and taken me a while to get used to.”
Su: “He gets cross with himself. That’s the bit I find difficult, because I know that he has to take more care through this period. We are people who have always had the energy to go forward and do things. We never question what we do. But maybe that’s God’s way of saying that we need to.”
How spiritual are you?
Si: “We are very spiritual. We both very much believe in God. We look at the things that have happened and think, ‘How are we going to cope with this?’ then, miraculously, a door appears to open. But you have to be open, free and ready to receive; things do then happen.”
Su: “It’s about knowing God is in our house and trusting in him. He’s with us every day and walks with us every day.”
Si: “If someone says they are going to pray for me, I think it’s the greatest gift they can give. When people write that they are praying for us, it’s the most glorious thing you can hear. That someone takes the care and trouble to sit down and write it, let alone follow it through, is amazing.”
Weren’t you told last spring that the tumour on your lung had shrunk?
“We did hear after a batch of treatments in America – which included low-dose chemotherapy – that it had stopped growing. Then the next scan showed it had started to grow again. That was when we decided to have a go at the stronger chemo as we felt it was potentially a solution to fight it.”
What other treatments are you using?
“Iscador, which is a mistletoe-based substance that I inject three times a week. And homeopathic treatments that help with lymphatic drainage and detoxing and that boost my immune system. I also take a herb every day from the Amazon called Gravizon.”
Su: “One has to work all the time at making one’s stomach alkaline and getting rid of all the acid. Cancer feeds off acidity so, in very simple terms, you have to take everything out of your diet that the cancer feeds off – don’t give it anything it likes, give it what it doesn’t”
Si: “We feel there’s as much in front of us as there is behind us. The big one is to go round the world together and visit all the places we haven’t seen. And there are lots of career things I still want to achieve – more film work and directing, particularly. Susan is also keen to get back into what she did so successfully for so many years – she’s just taken on new management.”
Is there a fear of the unknown?
Si: “Not for me.”
Su: “I don’t go there. I can’t go there and won’t go there.”
Si: “The power of prayer is massive. One must never ever forget that people do and can get rid of this thing. Faith has got an awful lot to do with it and as much it’s bad luck in getting it, there’s good luck in getting rid of it. Everybody who’s got this disease has to believe that. Both Susie and I fully believe in the Jewish proverb… ‘When God shuts a door, he opens a window.”‘