Panto star thanks NHS for ensuring the show goes on

Kev Johns MBE has spoken publicly for the first time about the cancer treatment he received, in order to thank the “incredible” staff in Swansea Bay for saving his life.

The beloved entertainer and broadcaster (pictured above)– best known for being the voice of the Swans and regularly starring in the Grand Theatre Swansea panto – recently revealed he had been receiving treatment for the disease over the past 18 months.

Thankfully, the 62-year-old is now cancer free after a course of immunotherapy followed by surgery; but at one point wondered if he would see another Christmas.

A routine blood test in March 2021 highlighted an iron deficiency and a subsequent CT scan revealed the star had and unexplained mass on one of his kidneys, which his doctor admitted looked sinister.

Kev, who didn’t display any major symptom, said: “They sent me for an endoscopy followed by a CT scan.

“The day after the wonderful doctor telephoned me and said, ‘I could have put this in writing but I know you were worried, so I wanted to tell you that there is something on your kidney.

“The first question I had was, ‘Is it sinister?’

“And she said, ‘Yes.’”

Following the news Kev faced a nervous wait for the diagnosis but he was determined to continue life as normal.

He said: “I was in a field in North Wales filming an episode of an American comedy show written by the guys who write Saturday Night Live – it was probably one of the biggest jobs of my life and I had this hanging over me.”

Kev was then sent for a biopsy that confirmed the worst.

He said: “When I saw the oncologist in Singleton she told me that I had stage 4 cancer.

“They felt that they couldn’t cure it as although it was on a kidney, there were lesions on my lungs as well, which prevented them operating.

“But she said, ‘Don’t worry. There’s lots of treatments to manage it.’”

Coming to terms with such a diagnosis is something Kev will never forget.

He said: “Initially, it didn’t sink in. I just thought, ‘I will be fine. They will sort it out.’

“Then the oncologist said, ‘We can’t cure it.’

“And I see it written down that it’s a bad form of cancer.

“I thought, ‘Will I see Christmas? Should I take my family on holiday?’ Which I did. I took them all away.

“I went through all of that.”

Kev  made the conscious decision to keep the news private, and literally got on with the show by starring as Nanna Penny in his 25th Swansea panto, Beauty and the Beast.

He said: “Initially, I kept it to myself. A lot of people get cancer. I’m no different to anybody else.

“I didn’t want any conversations when I was in the supermarket. I just wanted to get on with it.

“I wanted life to carry on. The best thing you can do – people told me this from the beginning – is to keep your positivity. I’ve stayed positive throughout.

“I was fit enough to keep working so I did the pantomime. On my day off from panto I had treatment. Everyone else went down Gower or to Joe’s for ice cream.”

Kev received weekly immunotherapy, which improves the immune system’s natural ability to fight the disease, in Singleton Hospital’s Chemotherapy Day Unit (CDU).

He said: “It is the most amazing place. They are the most incredible team of nurses and assistants – I can’t thank them enough.

“But I’m not special. I am one of dozens of people that go through the day unit on a regular basis. Some go weekly, some go monthly, for all sorts of treatment.

“And they all receive the same level of care.”

Kev knows that he was offered some of the best treatment available, through the NHS.

He said: “Every time I mention immunotherapy to people in the profession, they say that it’s a game changer.

“It’s never good to go on the internet at such times, but if you do a little research, the cost of this treatment in America – I don’t know how anyone can afford it.

“The best man in my wedding lives in the States and he told me, even with insurance, they may not pay for it.

“We are very blessed to have an NHS.”

Kev, who is an ordained pastor, is convinced he witnessed his own miracle when he was told they could go ahead with the surgery after all.

He said: “One minute the doctor is saying they can’t do the surgery they would usually do in this situation because there were these legions on my lungs.

“The miracle is, they all cleared. The tumour shrank. And the doctor is saying, ‘Let’s talk to the surgeon and see if he can do the operation.’”

Still keeping his cancer largely to himself Kev underwent surgery in early September this year.

He said: “Six weeks ago I went to the Pembroke Ward in Morriston Hospital at around 9am on a Friday morning, had the operation on Friday afternoon, and was back sitting at home on Sunday afternoon.

“The staff were just amazing. There were some really poorly people on that ward – but the care they received. I’ve always had love and respect for the NHS, and we can never pay them enough.”

Shortly after returning home Kev had some great news.

He said: “There are no signs of cancer in my body at this moment in time.

But anybody can be touched by cancer. There’s no guarantees that it won’t
grow back but, then again, there’s no guarantees for any of us.

“My treatment will continue, even though I’m okay, until they finish the cycle. Just to make sure.”

As news of his ordeal spreads Kev is typically modest and keen to praise others.

He said: “People tell me that they are proud of me but I couldn’t have done this without my wife, my family, and the incredible NHS staff that we have here in Swansea Bay.

“I had the most amazing team looking after me. I had regular consultations – sometimes in person, sometimes on the phone, and sometimes on Zoom.

“I saw a surgeon for a consultation in Neath Port Talbot Hospital, had my operation in Morriston, and went for treatment in Singleton.

“Those are the three hospitals that I have seen… and they have all been exemplary. They saved my life.”

And as he prepares to begin rehearsals for this year’s panto Kev offered hope to others.

He said: “Just listen to the advice. Trust the staff. They are experts and they care. They want you to get well. They will do everything in their power to get you better.

“They are just the most incredible people.”

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