Eric Idle, 79, reveals why he chose to keep his pancreatic cancer diagnosis a secret


Monty Python star Eric Idle has revealed he decided to keep his pancreatic diagnosis a secret until he knew he was going to survive. 

The comedian and writer, 79, revealed earlier this month that he had received a rare early diagnosis three years ago and was successfully treated for the illness. 

In a new interview with The Guardian, Eric admitted he ‘just got on with it’ when he was told his diagnosis and decided to speak out when he got the recent all-clear to give others hope.

Survivor: Monty Python star Eric Idle has revealed he decided to keep his pancreatic diagnosis a secret until he knew he was going to survive

Eric was diagnosed early after a pal who he was staying with in the United States urged him to undergo a variety of tests to help his friend – a doctor – in his studies into preventative medicine. 

He was told the diagnosis by his friend, who enlightened him that there was a good chance of removing the cancer via surgery due to the rare early diagnosis. 

Eric told The Guardian he didn’t feel emotional when told the news, explaining:  

‘I didn’t cry till I knew I was going to live. I just got on with it. I’m British! You try not to show emotions in the face of danger.’ 

The comedian told his wife of 41 years Tania and his children Carey, 49, and Lily, 32, but chose not to tell friends until he received the all-clear in order to spare them from worry. 

Heartbreaking: Eric recalled that he did not cry when he received his diagnosis and was undergoing surgery just 10 days after telling his wife Tania (pictured in 2018)

Heartbreaking: Eric recalled that he did not cry when he received his diagnosis and was undergoing surgery just 10 days after telling his wife Tania (pictured in 2018) 

He admitted he didn’t have time to be shocked as within 10 days of his diagnosis he was in hospital undergoing surgery. After five hours on the operating table, his cancer was removed perfectly intact.

He kept the news secret for three years, undergoing bi-annual tests, and only recently learning that he had the all clear.  

‘I’ve been living six months to six months on tests. I didn’t know how much longer I had. I saw my doctor recently, and that’s when I got the real shock. I asked him how long I had left, and he said: ’10 years’,’ he explained.

He also said: “Had you been two weeks later you wouldn’t have got to see the surgery; you would have been straight into chemo”, which is unpleasant and not much use at that stage.’

Awareness: Eric has now teamed up with Stand up to Cancer in a bid to increase awareness for cancer research and recently appeared on the U.S. version of The Masked Singer as part of the campaign

Awareness: Eric has now teamed up with Stand up to Cancer in a bid to increase awareness for cancer research and recently appeared on the U.S. version of The Masked Singer as part of the campaign 

Eric has now teamed up with Stand up to Cancer in a bid to increase awareness for cancer research and recently appeared on the U.S. version of The Masked Singer as part of the campaign. 

‘That’s why I came out about it,’ he said of his decision to reveal his diagnosis. ‘I wanted to say: “Look, I was very lucky and I survived. And so can you.” I’ve heard from so many people how much that meant to them. And that chokes me up. That makes me cry.’ 

He cites his old friend George Harrison as ‘a great example’ of dying with dignity. The Beatles star passed away from lung cancer aged 58 in 2001, with Eric among those at his deathbed.  

He always said to me: “Well, you can have as much money as you want, you can be the most famous person in the world, but you’re still going to have to die.” … ‘It was just fabulous to see someone pass away calmly without panic, regret or bitterness.’ 

Icon: 'I didn't cry till I knew I was going to live. I just got on with it. I'm British! You try not to show emotions in the face of danger,' Eric explained (pictured with John Cleese in 1975's Monty Python And The Holy Grail)

Icon: ‘I didn’t cry till I knew I was going to live. I just got on with it. I’m British! You try not to show emotions in the face of danger,’ Eric explained (pictured with John Cleese in 1975’s Monty Python And The Holy Grail)

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease, and around 95 per cent of people who contract it die from it. 

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, alongside about 55,000 in the US. 

It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.  

Pancreatic cancer typically does not show symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable. 

Sufferers tend to start developing the tell-tale signs – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.  

WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease, and around 95 per cent of people who contract it die from it.  

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, alongside about 55,000 in the US.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE?

It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.

WHO HAS THE HIGHEST RISK?

Most cases (90 per cent) are in people over the age of 55.

Around half of all new cases occur in people aged 75 or older.

One in 10 cases are attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health conditions, including diabetes.

WHY IS IT SO LETHAL?

There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer. 

Pancreatic cancer typically does not show symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable. 

Sufferers tend to start developing the tell-tale signs – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.    

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS? 

The only effective treatment is removal of the pancreas. 

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs. 

In those cases, palliative care is advised to ease their pain at the end of their life.  

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