When much-loved Escape to the Country and A Place in the Sun presenter Jonnie Irwin announced last year that he had terminal cancer, it wasn’t fresh news – to him, at least.
Irwin had been diagnosed more than two years previously, but had kept the fact hidden from all but his closest friends and family.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Jonnie Irwin’s heartbreaking interview.
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Until he couldn’t hide it any more.
When Irwin did go public with his diagnosis late in 2022, he was met with an outpouring of love and support.
In a recent One Chat With podcast, Irwin said that in doing so, he felt a massive weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“The day I came out and told the world that I had terminal cancer is the day I started living again, the day I started being Jonnie Irwin again,” he told interviewer Julie Hughes-Edwards.
In November, the English presenter and father-of-three revealed he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020 – and that the cancer had spread to his brain.
His wife had given birth to twins just two months before he learned the terrible news.
“I don’t know how long I have left,” Irwin told Hello magazine at the time.
“I try to stay positive, and my attitude is that I’m living with cancer, not dying from it.”
On the One Chat With podcast, Irwin said he was in Italy filming A Place in the Sun when he suddenly began seeing strange “gold spots” as he was driving along with his sound recordist.
After pulling over, the recordist told Irwin he might be having a stroke and immediately took him to the nearest hospital.
“I couldn’t remember where I lived; I was all over the shop,” Irwin said.
“They gave me some scans, and they said I had nodules around my brain.”
He was flown home for more hospital tests, and “within a few hours” he was told he had cancer.
“And then a few hours later … they said it was terminal and I had six months to live,” he said.
“I was just battered.
“I thought I was very strong mentally; I didn’t think I was shakeable like that.”
Irwin said after learning the devastating news, a friend had to hold his arm as he walked home from the hospital.
“I had to go home and I had to tell my wife. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he said.
“How do you tell a woman who, only two months before, has had twins?
“How do you tell them you’re not going to be there anymore?”
He said he remembered the conversation like it was yesterday.
“That memory stays in my head, and it was brutal,” he said.
“All I can remember is hugging her and saying, ‘Sorry’.”
Later, Irwin found out his cancer had a “mutation” which meant there was a drug that could target a defect in the cancer, and that could potentially buy him another two or three years.
“I remember just bursting into tears, because that was the first bit of positive news I’d had in weeks,” he said.
“I felt like I’d got a break.
“But six months later, the lesions had grown again. That two, three years suddenly evaporated, and I was terminal again.
“It just kept coming back, much to the surprise of doctors.
“But I still maintain I’m living with cancer, not dying with it.”
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So why did Irwin keep his disease secret for two years?
“The only reason I kept it secret is because I need money. I’ve got to earn, I’ve gotta feed my babies, I’ve got to pay the bills,” he said.
“And as soon as you say you’ve got cancer, people just write you off.
“People think you’re just gonna cark it.
“I had to live with it as a secret to continue to be able to provide for my family.
“It was really difficult, living with this massive black cloud over me and pretending to everyone else outside my tight-knit circle.”
For the first year-and-a-half, Irwin said, he was able to work without anyone noticing anything unusual, but his illness increasingly became obvious.
One company, which he didn’t name, refused to renew his work contract after he disclosed he was ill because they would no longer be able to insure him.
“That left a massive hole in my income,” he said.
“I felt like I’d been thrown on the scrap heap.”
He began thinking it was time to go public and, after numerous conversations with his wife, he decided to go ahead.
“The day came when I decided to tell the world … It’s been a massive, massive weight off my shoulders,” he said.
“The day I told the world I had cancer, terminal cancer, is the day I started living again, the day I started being Jonnie Irwin again, and I actually feel alive.”
Irwin and wife Jessica have three children – twins Rada and Cormac and older son Rex.
“One day, this is going to catch up with me,” Irwin said when revealing his terminal prognosis.
“But I’m doing everything I can to hold that day off for as long as possible. I owe that to Jess and our boys.
“Some people in my position have bucket lists, but I just want us to do as much as we can as a family.”
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