This time a year ago, Australian Idol winner Stan Walker was facing what he knew would be a major battle: having his stomach removed due to cancer.
There’d be months of gruelling rehab, weight loss, relapses and more surgery, even the uncertainty over whether he would ever sing again.
But what he didn’t know was that lurking inside him was not just one tumour—doctors found 13. “Cancer is like salt, and if it’s touched or moved it can spread even more. But even on its own it had spread fast,” says the singer, speaking to WHO ahead of the release of his documentary, Stan Walker: The Fight of His Life.
“If I hadn’t done the operation, I would for sure be dead by now.”
He also has his mum, April, to thank for making him take a routine test in the first place. He knew that, like her, he carried an inherited mutation of the CDH1 gene, and as the fifth generation to be stricken with it, he stood an 80 per cent chance of contracting stomach cancer. The disease had killed many relatives including his grandfather, Rangi McLeod, whose quest to find the cause of his family’s health troubles was filmed for a 1999 BBC documentary, but who died of complications from his gastrectomy.
“I didn’t even want to go and do the test, because I had to fly to Melbourne to do it,” says the New Zealand–based star. “But she kept nagging me, saying, ‘I know, son, but come along. It will be good for you. These doctors know.’ ” He instructed doctors to give his mother the results, but “then she rang me up a week later, and she was crying, saying, ‘Son, they found cancer.’ And I was like, ‘That’s trippy’—and we both started laughing. I mean, not because it was funny—but what else can you do? It’s such a grim thing.’”
At the time he told no-one, opting to tell his story via a documentary. “In a way, it was how I processed something like this,” he says.
“In a creative way, I wanted to show people what it’s actually like—the good, the bad, the ugly ... Something like ‘cancer’—people can’t even say it. But I’m like, ‘Why? Don’t let it become you. Don’t let it own you. It doesn’t define you.’ ”
A year on, he and his mother are both cancer-free and have embarked on a new, healthier life. Walker has channelled his experience into music, releasing an EP of songs penned years ago, and a sweet tribute to his mum he wrote just before his diagnosis.
“I probably just closed the biggest chapter of my life, with this EP and this documentary,” he says. “Now, the music I’m making—I have so much coming out ...
To be honest, I can honestly say going through that cancer thing, and the last however many years of everything, I am so thankful—because I haven’t been this happy in so long. I can look at myself and 100 percent back myself that I’ve got this.”
Stan Walker: The Fight of His Life airs Mon., May 7 at 9.15 PM on Nine and 9Now.
This article originally appeared on WHO.