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Bill Alexander’s smile masks the pain

July 29, 2017

Entertainers, Latest news

ENTERTAINER CHOOSES TO GRIN

DESPITE GRIM CANCER DIAGNOSES

A DIP in the family pool 14 years ago sparked a condition that literally changed the life of popular club entertainer, Bill Alexander.

“While I was swimming, I had a heart fribulation. It went for hours,” the always smiling performer told long-time friend and On With the Show Editor Shirley Broun recently during a special luncheon in his honour at Burleigh Sports on the Gold Coast.

Bill Alexander - still smiling despite cancer diagnosis.

Bill Alexander – still smiling despite cancer diagnosis.

“It happened again a year later and then I had uncontrollable heart fribulation 15 times in 18 months which resulted in a pacemaker being fitted,” he said.

It was then, at age 66, Bill decided to pack up and move (with wife Robyn) to the Gold Coast to retire and indulge in his favourite pastime of fishing.

Well … that was the plan!

“After three weeks of going fishing I was in total depression,” said Bill.

“I missed the people. Then Elizabeth Garnett’s husband Peter Matthieson showed me how to make my own backing tracks and I built up to 250 tracks and started going out and doing seniors shows. They were great audiences of up to 200 people. I used the same material as 40 years ago because they hadn’t had the clubs like in NSW. They loved it… particularly the singalongs and we had standing ovations wherever we went. Actually, a lot were sitting ovations,” laughed Bill.

For almost 40 years Bill had been a regular feature on the stages of clubs and venues in Sydney. His signature song was Granada, the first half of which he sang standing on his head atop a grand piano … just for something a bit different!

“Most of the clubs had a grand piano with the lid down. I would do a standing jump onto a stool and grab the lip of the piano and do a head stand. People loved it and it got me lots of work,” he said.

Bill said the unusual element to his act began early in his career at Adamstown RSL in 1978 when, as the main performer, he followed the support artists The Golden Dancers which were a Diago & balancing act wearing only a `V’ and painted gold.

“I had to think of a way to get the attention back on me. I had been a weightlifter and done a bit of tumbling so I stuck a microphone on the floor and did a handstand and then a head stand to finish the song `There Goes My Everything’. That worked … it got the audience’s attention and I went on.”

Life with a mix of fishing and performing on the Gold Coast was great. Then about four years ago at age 75, Bill was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of blood cancer and told he had about 4 years to live.

It was a shock and something that would have a marked impact on both Bill, now 79, and the love of his life Robyn’s lives.

But ever-smiling and jovial Bill decided then and there he wasn’t going to let the diagnosis get him down.

“When I was first diagnosed the thought came to me straight away and that was `when things are bad you have a choice – Grin or Grim – and I decided to go GRIN.”

“Basically, it is cancer of the white cells,” explained Bill. “They protect you but uncontrolled they expand to a point where they strip the bones of calcium and make them brittle. I have another disease that is very rare too that has attacked my heart and thickened it up called Amyloidofis. So, even if I wanted to go fishing now, I couldn’t. It affects your ability to do just about everything. Can’t walk far either so Robyn has to push me around in a wheel chair a lot of the time. ”

Bill gets a lift in a wheelchair from the `love of his life' Robyn.

Bill gets a lift in a wheelchair from the `love of his life’ Robyn.

Still smiling, a little reflective, Bill says there are things I have difficulty doing now. Having always been a bit of a scientist and an inventor, I invented a knot that is very very strong. I can’t barely tie that knot now and fishing is out too because I can’t feel the fishing line with the neuropathy and numbness in my hands.

Bill has endured a lot of chemotherapy during the past four years including six stays in hospital during the past 18 months (four were life threatening) but he says all treatment has now come to an end.

“There is nothing they can give me now. To look at me, you wouldn’t know there is anything wrong at all. I’m off all the tablets but can live with the pain. Unless I get up and walk quickly (which I can’t do) I feel and look OK. I’m lucky that I haven’t had the extent of pain most cancers cause.

“The sad thing is the doctors don’t know how long I have got left. It could be two weeks or four months.”

Bill has maintained a positive attitude throughout his ordeal with cancer and it helped, he said, to be able to share his experiences with his more than 400 family and friends on FaceBook.

“Everyone has been wonderful and through FB I have been hearing from people I haven’t seen in 30 years. There is a comradery that is just so precious and uplifting. I started to get lots of questions about my health so I decided to start to share what was happening with funny messages and posts. It was good for me too,” said Bill.

In one post Bill wrote: NUTHA (Another) HEALTH BLERB (blurb) . . . Ultrasound scans shows my heart has been thickened by Amyloid Cells (Amyloidofis is a rare disease linked to my cancer, Multiple Myeloma) and now just walking around the house brings on tightness in the heart area, and I have to sit for a few minutes to recover….All this was predicted, but it’s a bit earlier than I’d hoped….I could not now race a Cane Toad in a ten metre marathon hop/shuffle run….GRIN GRIN. He attached a poster which read “Keep going me old ticker, I’ve still got a lot of Facebook left in me yet, heh-he.”

Bill said that after the treatment stopped he posted what he told followers was going to be his `final post’ but everyone told him not to stop. “They wanted to share my journey right to the end. It’s getting hard knowing you may not be alive in a couple of weeks’ time to put something funny on FB … it’s a big challenge but it is something to work on when I get out of bed each morning.”

“The experience has been an adventure. I haven’t felt afraid at all and actually feel rather at peace. It is always hard for those who are left behind,” he said.

Bill paid tribute to Robyn who has been with him every step of the way – from the moment they first met in 1961 when he was a weightlifter (top weight 325lb or 147.5kg, of which he is proud), marrying in 1964 and raising two beautiful children to changing his career from being a linesman to performing on stage (after he realised he was scared of heights) and his latest battle with cancer.

“Robyn has been with me the whole time – stuck with me through thick and thin. She has been a wonderful woman to be married to. I have been so, so lucky and love her so much. She deserves a medal. I’m going to take a few lotto tickets so she can win some money to keep her OK.”

“We have also been extremely lucky to have so many wonderful friends like Toni Stevens, Val Jones and Lyn Rogers who is staying with us at the moment and so many others. I can’t thank everyone enough for making our lives so much richer and happier. I’ve had a good life so I am not afraid.”

A secret love of poetry combined with the work that hospital professionals did for Bill during the course of his treatment inspired him to write a poem for the oncology department staff at John Flynn Private Hospital which has been laminated and posted up for all to see.
It reads:

Oncology Day Care Poem:

Twelve recliner chairs around the room,
Most Tuesdays are full, or will be soon,
So I sit and watch each interesting face,
Curious to know where, and in what place,
But loath to probe such an intimate query,
Then someone shares, and proffers a theory,
It’s food, pollution, and stress of thought,
That’s caused these cancers, we have caught,
But I tell this as the weeks roll on,
And I observe these nurses we rely upon,
They make the day fun, but with great care,
Treating the patient, in every single chair,
And knowing you’re in these capable hands,
Makes one think, YES, I will make plans….
I thank these nurses of the Day Care Ward,
These dedicated folk, I now heartily applaud,
I’ll miss these visits, for it will end at last,
Tough chemo times, slipping into the past,
The vision I have of life ahead, like a golden light,
Will poetry now be my art, Naaa, BUT then again it might!

Author: William Scott (Bill Alexander)

Entertainer Toni Stevens organised a special lunch for Bill, pictured here, surrounded by family and friends.

Entertainer Toni Stevens organised a special lunch for Bill, pictured here, surrounded by family and friends.

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