TV identity reveals how cancer changed him for the better

CANCER - it's the journey most people dread making. Yet former television news presenter and radio announcer Mike Higgins is thankful for it.

Sitting at his son Josh's 25.6ha property at Ringtail Creek, overlooking Noosa Heads and Lake Cootharaba, he tells me about his battle with cancer and how he has become a better person because of it.

"Having a cancer diagnosis really made me think about all the patterns of my life and how you can come out a better person,'' he said.

"I was an absent husband and father. For a long time I was work obsessed.

"Luckily, I've been able to rebuild those relationships with both my ex-wives and my three boys - Jason, 49, Nat, 48, and Josh, 45.

"I am filled with gratitude for that alone.''

Mike was the golden boy of Brisbane television in the 1980s and impressed me with his kind nature.

 

Mike Higgins in 2010 when he compered the Leukaemia Foundation's Light the Night event.
Mike Higgins in 2010 when he compered the Leukaemia Foundation's Light the Night event. Geoff Potter/n25634c

In a time when so many hosts of awards presentations take such delight in making fun at the expense of others, he always displayed respect for those around him.

Once the Channel 7 pin-up as the on-air 6pm anchor man, the 73-year-old Mike Higgins is now the poster boy for the Leukaemia Foundation as a blood cancer survivor.

After about 30 years in radio and television he chose a low-profile life at Eumundi, developing a property as a healing retreat known as Harmony Hill.

But in 2008 he was diagnosed with cutaneous T-Cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma which primarily affects the skin, causing patches, plaques, tumours and lesions.

Now, after enduring five years of various chemotherapy treatments, radiation and, finally, a bone marrow transplant, he is finishing his memoirs at the Ringtail Creek property.

The tranquillity of the property and Josh's support have helped tremendously in his recovery.

 

Mike Higgins on the Cootharaba property.
Mike Higgins on the Cootharaba property. John McCutcheon

Mostly bushland, with a seasonal creek and waterfall and adjoining Ringtail State Forest, the property has views to the Teewah Sand Blow on Noosa's North Shore from the cleared site around the self-sufficient home.

The writing has been beneficial in Mike's recuperation. With a working title of Trouserless Under The News Desk, the memoir chronicles his life in the media as well as his battle with cancer.

"The title always gets a laugh,'' he tells me.

"It's getting a good response. I've showed it to quite a few people.

"The book has gone off to the publisher - the literary agent in Sydney has called it inspirational.

"Kevin Rudd just read it and has given me a comment to use.

"Most of it was written on scraps of paper while I was in hospital. But I have polished it here at Ringtail Creek.

"This is where it all came together .. my memoirs, my health.''

When Mike was first diagnosed with cancer his oncologist was pretty upfront and said it was not a good one to have.

"In fact, there was just a 16 per cent chance of survival. But I immediately put myself in that 16 per cent and told him, 'don't tell me any bad news'.

"I meditate a lot and do yoga. I used to exercise a lot in the ward... pushing my chemo trolley every day, no matter how crook I got.

"Being here has hastened my recovery. The ambience and sheer beauty of the people has been so healing.

"I nearly did die. But one doctor called it miraculous.

"He said only 100 worldwide have survived the cancer I have.

"I consider myself lucky but the good fortune continued when I came here.

"I could hardly walk up the four steps of Eumundi post office.

"So when I came here I felt it was the beginning of a healing journey.

"Look at that amazing view and cloud shapes.''

 

A young Mike Higgins as newsreader with ATN 7 in Sydney.
A young Mike Higgins as newsreader with ATN 7 in Sydney.

Having grown up in Sydney, Mike got permission to leave school at 14 to work, due to family hardship, and eventually went into radio at 2NZ Inverell.

He then fluked a newsreader job at ATN7 Sydney in 1966, reading prime-time 6pm news Monday to Friday at age 21.

He came to Queensland in 1967 and after two years at radio 4GG Gold Coast he moved to BTQ 7 Brisbane.

In 1983 he was the winner of a United Nations Media Peace Prize for a documentary production. The Living Will Envy The Dead centred on nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

He moved on from television in the early 1990s and now doesn't even have a television.

Having just sold his own home in Eumundi, complete with train carriages, he has been donating his possessions to Bloomhill Cancer Care at Buderim.

He hopes his book will be a form of inspiration for others.

"In my early days I would drink a lot," he said. "I was the absent father and scored myself low on the husband/father role.

"I started keeping count of the drinks on a card until I cut down enough to dispense with the card.

"Today it resonates in my head... I can keep track of it and keep within healthy limits.

"The cancer diagnosis was as if you get a wake-up call from the universe.

"You can live better, you change your priorities when you are predicted to die.

"You can look at past behaviours, and make changes.

"I'm glad I did, as it gave me the opportunity to be the person I was meant to be... a blessing in disguise.

"And now I'm able to help other cancer patients wherever I can.''

Mike gained great inspiration from Australian writer David Malouf's book An Imaginary Life, about how overcoming adversity can lead you to the person you were meant to be.

"When you have to draw on your resources it can bring out the best in you.

"You are filled with gratitude... even when the washing machine works, I say 'thank you'.

"My three sons are improvements on me.''

English physicist Stephen Hawking was another inspiration for Mike.

And it was Martin Luther King Jr who said: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

That's Mike's philosophy. Whatever it takes you have to keep moving forward.

"Whatever happens, I'll handle it.

"I know it was the genius of the doctors at Royal Brisbane but I have contributed.''

As part of the healing process he saw art as a way back.

He jettisoned the cameras and took up a sketchbook, then got serious about writing.

Once his memoir has been published, Mike will take his van on a book tour of Queensland and beyond.

He has also written a novel, and adapted it to a screenplay, and has another novel half-written that he'll work on while travelling.

"I will travel on a whim... follow my nose.''

But on Saturday he will be at his son Josh's property at 400 Ringtail Creek Rd when it goes to auction at 1pm.

"For six years Josh has helped me through it... spiritually, emotionally and financially.

"He came to my rescue.''



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