Tim Webster: "I drew the short straw"

For many years Tim Webster filled our lounge rooms, broadcasting from our TV sets as he covered major sporting events including the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Olympic Games, the 1994 Commonwealth Games and the Australasian Golf Tour.

He enjoyed considerable success anchoring TEN Eyewitness News in Sydney and Perth’s Ten News at Five; was a regular presenter of the nightly sports bulletin on Channel 10 and would occasionally fill-in on Sky News. Yet at age 65, retirement is still far from his mind, now broadcasting every weekday on radio station Talking Lifestyle.

However, almost five years ago, the veteran TV sports reporter was lying on an operation table for close to six-hours, as surgeons worked to remove a tumour that was at the lower section of his oesophagus, near the junction of his stomach. “It’s a very long surgery, a very invasive one, so it took a while to recover. I had a couple of complications. I ended up with a collapsed lung so I was in hospital for a very long time. It was pretty debilitating,” he recollects.

It was around his mid-fifties when Webster began to experience frequent and severe reflux, which he soon found out was a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus. “It’s a scarring that literally anyone could have and go through life without even knowing they had it. But if you do have it, you have a [rare] chance … of getting oesophagus cancer and I drew the short straw because that sort of cancer was normally associated with heavy smokers and obese people, and I’m neither of those.”

According to the Cancer Council, oesophageal cancer affects over 1300 Australians each year – a very rare disease that makes up 1.4% of cancer cases in men and 0.8% for women.

Webster was in hospital within a week of his shock diagnosis and the recovery process was long and tedious. One of the most striking outcomes of the surgery was the significant weight loss he experienced. Unable to eat, Webster had to be fed through his stomach and went from 102 kilos to just under 80 kilos.

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Webster lost a shocking 22 kilos from oesophageal cancer

“The thing with that surgery is it actually makes your stomach smaller; it’s further up into your chest and your oesophagus is shorter. So you can’t take in as much food and you get full really, quite quickly, so it alters your eating pattern pretty dramatically,” he explains.

But when he was finally able to start eating again, the food was entering the wrong way and Webster was back in the operating room for a second time to try and repair his collapsed lung. “For a long time, after the surgery… I really wasn’t interested in food at all so I had to, not force myself to eat, but I had to remind myself I had to have something to eat.”

It was hard being told that he would never be the same again but that did not deter Webster’s spirit. As soon as he could, he was up and walking about. In fact, he was a bit of a poster boy in the hospital. “I got up on a walking crane, with all my drains still attached to me, and went wandering around to all the corridors ‘cause I just wanted to get up and move as I’ve always been pretty active.”

Despite the challenges, Webster remained resolute. “I’m genuinely a fairly pragmatic sort of a fellow so, to me, you got that diagnosis there’s nothing you can do about it, so you just deal with it. You’ve done what’s required to get done, listened to what the doctors tell you and then move on, which is what I’ve managed to do. It alters your life but you just make adjustments and keep going.”

And persevere he did. Webster continues on the airwaves on Talking Lifestyle every weekday from 9am.

“I don’t know what I would do if I retired, I still very much love what I do and think when it comes to the time, I will know when it is time. But there’s still people that want me to do the programs I’m doing, which I enjoy doing.

"And I hope if it gets to the stage when I get too old to do it, someone will tap me on the shoulder – hopefully a loved one – and say, ‘Hey mate, it might be time to give it away’ but I don’t think I’ve arrived there yet.”

Tim Webster's final night as sports presenter on Sydney's 5pm Ten News bulletin

Although Webster retired from Channel 10 back in 2008, he returned to radio in various forms and is now doing it fulltime, anchoring the programs: The Morning Mix, Talking Travel, The Home Show and Talking Gardens, which he says he’s thrilled to be a part of.

“The Morning Mix with my co-host Dee Dee is really fun to do and you cover a range of topics which makes your time on the radio very interesting. I mean, people virtually teach me new things every day so it’s very advantageous in that way.”

Since his surgery, Webster has had a CT scan every six months but was recently given the good news that he would not need to return for another scan until three years time.

His health scare saw him appreciate life a lot more, saying that a person would be very fortunate if they didn't know someone that had a brush with cancer. “At my age I tend to go to a lot more funerals than I go to christenings, but that’s going to happen when you’re 65 and not 25,” he says.

“It makes you appreciate what’s around you a lot more. It makes you appreciate life a lot more and it makes you realise – I know it’s a cliché but it’s a pretty good one – that life is generally pretty short and you can be gone pretty quickly. And that happens, unfortunately, far too often.”

Listen to Tim Webster every weekday from 9am-1pm on Talking Lifestyle.

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