Dame Esther Rantzen reveals she has lung cancer 'which has now spread'
Dame Esther Rantzen has revealed that she is suffering from lung cancer “which has now spread”.
The broadcaster and charity campaigner, 82, who became a household name and an inspiration for female journalists through her decades-long career with the BBC, announced the result of her diagnosis on Sunday.
Dame Esther said that she is “remaining optimistic” following the discovery of her illness, which has prompted her to thank “everyone who has made my life so joyful”.
In a statement, the founder of ChildLine said that the diagnosis had been made in recent weeks, and she wished to share the news to ensure the public “heard the facts” first-hand.
She said: “In the last few weeks I have discovered that I am suffering from lung cancer which has now spread. At the moment I am undergoing various tests, to assess the best treatment.
"I have decided not to keep this secret any more because I find it difficult to skulk around various hospitals wearing an unconvincing disguise, and because I would rather you heard the facts from me.
"At the age of 82, this diagnosis has prompted me to look back over the years, and I want to express my profound thanks to everyone who has made my life so joyful, filled with fun, and with inspiration.
"First and foremost my family. My three children Miriam, Rebecca and Joshua have been the most wonderful support, company, and source of love and laughter and I am deeply grateful to them. My friends have been amazing and have created memories which sustain me and give me strength.”
She added that the colleagues she worked with in broadcasting, journalism, and the voluntary sector had “amazed” her with “ their tolerance of my wild ideas and awful jokes”.
'I am remaining optimistic'
Dame Esther continued: "I have been continuously inspired by the courageous children, older people and viewers who have trusted me with their life stories. I have always tried to live up to that trust.
"As I am sure you will understand, while I am awaiting the results of the tests, I am unable to answer questions. Thanks to the extraordinary skills of the medical profession there are wonderful new treatments, so I am remaining optimistic."
The Oxford-educated broadcaster first came to widespread public attention as the presenter of consumer affairs programme That’s Life, a role she held for 21 years from 1973 to 1994.
On her suggestion, the BBC later aired a programmed named Childwatch to help the public spot signs of child abuse, and Dame Esther lobbied for the helpline connected to this programme to be made permanent.
The result was ChildLine, founded in 1986, which provides a counselling service for young people run by the NSPCC. In 2006, Dame Esther received a CBE for her services to children and young people, and in 2015 she was made a dame in the New Year Honours.
Following the news of Dame Esther's diagnosis, NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: "I speak on behalf of Childline's volunteers, staff and supporters in sending love and best wishes to Dame Esther Rantzen and her family.
"Esther's tireless commitment to Childline and the wider NSPCC over the years is truly inspiring and the positive impact that she’s had on children's lives is unimaginable.
"No matter what, she has always been here for children and young people and likewise, we are here to support her during this challenging time."
Dame Esther revealed in 2021 that she had moved from London to her long-time holiday home in the New Forest, where she is visited by her five grand-children, and where the ashes of her late husband Desmond Wilcox are scattered.
Wilcox, who produced Dame Esther’s breakthrough show That’s Life!, died in 2000. The couple had three children together, including the broadcaster Rebecca Wilcox, who went to the same Oxford college as her mother and followed her into a career with BBC.
Dean Esther has been sent messages of support from those she has worked with in broadening and the charity sector, which she again became involved in in 2013, when she founded the helpline The Silver Line, intended to provide company and advice to the elderly. The helpline is among those which have received support from the Telegraph’s Christmas Charity Appeal.
The scheme has since joined with Age UK, whose chief executive Paul Farmer said he was “very sad to hear the news about Dame Esther Rantzen, the founder of The Silver Line”, adding in a statement on Twitter that he was “wishing her all the best as she receives treatment”.
In 2021, Dame Esther Rantzen received a Lifetime Achievement honour at the Women of the Year awards.