From the ‘Your Health’ section of the Daily Express of Tuesday 25th October 2011 (page 31 of the printed edition).
BRAIN TUMOURS HAVE MADE ME THE MAN I AM
Watson has injections of testosterone and growth hormones and takes hydrocortisone.Tuesday October 25,2011
By Jane Symons
SINGER Russell Watson is a man at the mercy of his hormones.
He has injections of testosterone and growth hormones and takes hydrocortisone three times a day. “If I don’t, I will be in a coma and die within 48 hours,” he says.
It’s an extraordinary statement, made even more so by the fact that it is delivered without a hint of melodrama or emphasis.
The Salford-born singer who has sold more than seven million records, talks about the possibility of death with a matter-of-fact tone that most of us would use to discuss a shopping list or the day’s news. Because while disco divas might belt out, ‘I will survive’, the tenor known simply as The Voice, actually does it.
After two brain tumours and subsequent radiotherapy Russell, 44, is dependent on a constant cocktail of synthetic hormones. “I have to have a tablet to have sex, I have to inject myself to feel good and want to go out to dinner and I have to inject growth hormones. I have 10mg of hydrocortisone in the morning, five in the afternoon and five in the evening.”
I nearly died twice. That has to shake you up and make you see and feel things in a different way.
His hormone levels are monitored constantly and he is never far from a kit of top-up medications. “There are all sorts of different ways of administering them, gels, patches, injections. If I get ill and I am being sick, I would not be able to take the hydrocortisone orally. There are anti-inflammatories, potassium, you name it, it’s in the bag.”
He admits: “At first it was hard, you feel dependent on them to stay alive. But now it’s just part of my daily regime. I view myself like a car which the mechanics have fixed but still needs petrol to run properly.” Surviving two brain tumours has given Russell a new outlook on life. “It’s like being in an exclusive club,” he explains. “Cancer and the possibility of dying is a subject that, before my illness, I would have felt very uncomfortable talking about.
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“But I nearly died twice. That has to shake you up and make you see and feel things in a different way.
“If I was meant to go, I would be dead and gone by now. I genuinely believe I am here for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is but I am still here for a reason.”
He hasn’t adopted the mantra of Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs, saying: “I realised after a few months that I couldn’t live every day as if it was my last. You can’t – but you can appreciate every day with a similar significance. It puts things into perspective.
“If someone had said to me seven or eight years ago, ‘Would you like two brain tumours?’ I’d have said, ‘Absolutely not’. But would I change what has happened to me? No, I would not because it has given me something you can’t learn.”
Russell’s problems began in 2005 when he suffered excruciating headaches. “It was like a knife cutting into the bridge of my nose.”
A doctor dismissed it as stress-related and advised him to take it easy which wasn’t an option given his hectic recording and touring schedule. The headaches continued and in 2006 Russell’s peripheral vision began to deteriorate. Scans at the world-famous Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles revealed he had a pituitary adenoma, a brain tumour the size of two golf balls.
It was shaped like a figure of eight with one pushing into the front of his skull and the other into the top of his nose.
“It turns out the pain I’d been feeling was probably the tumour eating its way into the nasal cavity. It was not very pleasant,” he says with typical understatement.
Fortunately the tumour was benign and Russell flew to England for a six-hour operation to remove it, through an incision in his nose.
He took three months off to recover but the tumour had destroyed Russell’s pituitary gland, the pea-sized hormone factory that pumps out the body chemicals which drive almost every basic function of our bodies.
As a result he experienced wild mood swings, ricocheting from feeling invincible to suicidal and the headaches never quite went away.
A year later, after suffering a series of dizzy spells and problems with his vision, he was diagnosed with a second tumour.
“I was due to see a specialist but the night before I kept vomiting. When I hadn’t got up the next morning, my assistant Gary came in and found me. He said I was grey.
“All I can remember is being wheeled downstairs with some guy over my shoulder asking, ‘Russell, can you hear me?’ That’s when you know you’re in trouble,” he says.
He was perilously close to death. The vomiting had caused Russell’s tumour to bleed into his brain and his surgeon wanted to operate immediately. Yet Russell insisted on delaying so he could see his daughters Rebecca and Hannah, who were 13 and seven at the time.
There were doubts that he would sing again. “I remember there was a lot of scepticism about my recovery.
“You have to be strong, psychologically, physically, vocally, there are so many different things to consider,” he says.
However Russell says his voice is stronger than it has ever been. “The tumour had grown into the nasal cavity and was causing a blockage. It had happened so gradually I didn’t have any awareness of it,” he says.
“My voice is definitely better now, particularly in the lower register.” He says: “I sang Schubert’s Ave Maria for seven or eight years but when I sang it for the first time after I nearly died I understood it. I didn’t just sing it, I really understood it.
“People pick up on that. I get lots of people coming to my concerts who are survivors or who are seriously ill and they say they can see me as someone they can relate to.
“That’s an incredible feeling.”Russell’s new album, Return Of The Voice Live At The Royal Albert Hall on Lace DVD is released on November 7, priced £15.99.