this is one of the most moving stories ever :
From Times Online
September 12, 2004
A daughter's farewell
Few people knew that Caron Keating had cancer — or of her seven-year quest for a cure. This is the untold story of her final years
by Lesley White
Probably in the end it does, though she travelled a long way in air miles and mystic byways to discover that she was worthy of her many assets.
It all began with nothing.
In August 1997 the TV presenter discovered a lump in her left breast; given neither to panic nor pessimism, she assumed it was a milk gland enlarged as she breast-fed her second child, Gabriel, then six months old. Her death seven years later from cancer was both a shocking and rare event: a show-business tragedy from which no diverting sob story had been wrung. In fact, the world had been firmly shut out. No inspirational interviews were given, no plucky speeches performed, no sympathy required (especially not that) and no attempt to turn a personal misfortune into renewed personal or career publicity. We have come to expect the serious illnesses of the famous to be like their births and marriages, part of the glossy lifestyle package of "brave survivors" and "tireless campaigners", but not in this case. For much of the past seven years Keating was indeed courageous as she battled her disease, but if you didn't know her well (and plenty who did were not in on the secret) you wouldn't have known that she was ill at all.
The news of her death on April 13 this year was a bombshell. We may have been vaguely aware that she was no longer a TV fixture, was thought to be suffering bouts of recurrent depression since the sudden death from a heart attack of her father in 1997. Many in the media knew of her illness, but amazingly the story never appeared, maybe because editors sympathised and thought her so unusually blameless.
The daughter of Gloria Hunniford and her ex-husband, the director Don Keating, she brought a whimsical, beribboned glamour to Blue Peter, first crush of a generation. Later she presented This Morning and was the entertainment correspondent for London Tonight, preternaturally cheery as our telly birds have to be, but never candyfloss, always wide awake with a hint of a wicked humour. Sometimes the publicity machine offered glimpses of her life: her marriage to the showbiz agent Russ Lindsay, partner with Peter Powell in James Grant Media Group; mother of two sons, Charlie, born in July 1994, and Gabriel, in January 1997. It all seemed perfect, unimprovable, enviable. Before cancer, Keating's life was safe as tea-time crumpets. A member of a good-hearted, old-fashioned showbiz community, she was set for life, a fun-time chip off the old light-entertainment block.
What she became in her last years was something quite different: a disciple of spiritual healing, a patron of Tibetan monks, a believer that exposure to controlled sound and colour could rearrange the body's aberrant molecules. It would be easy to make her last years in Australia sound like one long beach barbecue with hippies strumming guitars and wearing crystals, but at times it verged on the culty, and she needed the sturdy protection of her husband to pull her back from the darker brinks. Channelling with shamans required her to discover her inner animal — a wolf — then embody it. "It's cool," she would say, "I have my wolf with me."
At first she would try any cranky formula in the new-age enclave of Byron Bay, New South Wales. One day "Jesus" walked up her path followed by the "Prince of Darkness", a salvation package based on the idea that evil would scare the seeker towards the true path. Keating and Lindsay spent days talking to the weird double act: she was fascinated; he was watchful, feeling their brand of redemption bordered on dangerous. With hindsight, Keating doubted their usefulness, wryly observing in her diary that a 15-stone chain-smoking Australian was unlikely to be the reincarnated Christ.
Such encounters were not foreseen. Keating grew up outside Belfast, a beguiling child who loved to accompany her presenter mother to work and play with the weatherboard or wait to meet celebrities. With a degree in English and drama from Bristol, she fronted the Irish youth show Green Rock from Belfast, and at 24 was recruited by Biddy Baxter to swim with sharks and stand under freezing waterfalls. Probably she was more reflective than mainstream presenters need to be; later she felt she may have been more fulfilled as a painter or novelist, or even a doctor. She was picky about the shows she worked on, would never have agreed to present the lottery, and, being married to a wealthy, self-made man, with a fabulous house in Barnes, she could afford to be discerning.
One of her first boyfriends was Philip Schofield. Other old friends included Peter Powell and his ex-wife, Anthea Turner, and Ross Kelly, clean-cut entertainers without a cocaine problem between them. Sir Cliff Richard played his ballad Miss You Nights at her funeral in Hever church in Edenbridge, Kent, where she and Lindsay were married 13 years earlier. Cilla and Noel Edmonds attended the funeral; Richard and Judy offered eulogies; all were loved friends but not natural fellow travellers on the radical path she needed to tread. You can see why she needed a clean break in her hour of need, that escape to Australia and the company of kindred spirits; it was not just tabloid scrutiny she was fleeing but the assumptions that a nice, well-adjusted girl without cancer could afford to make. For a while she needed to be a different person; the girl who had it all — looks, love, kids, career, family — needed to take none of it for granted. Most of her old friends at the funeral can barely have imagined how far she had flown from their conventional religious allegiances and British reserve in her effort to evade death, harness the at times terrifying force of nature and become a wilder, wiser soul.
Having discovered the lump in her left breast, Keating underwent a needle biopsy, the results of which proved inconclusive. She was so unconcerned, she had to be forced back into hospital by her mother and husband for the recommended lumpectomy allowing more advanced cytological investigation. "There is nothing wrong with me!" she told them from her bed at London's private Lister hospital. After the procedure she returned to her mother's house in Sevenoaks for bed rest and tea at the kitchen table (later green tea would replace the Typhoo she had advertised as a baby in her highchair) from her favourite spotted mug. Two days later, a phone call from his wife's oncologist interrupted Lindsay at his office in Isleworth: the lump was malignant and Caron must return to hospital that evening. Notwithstanding all the traumas of years to come, this initial news was the worst shock they had to absorb.
From the start of her ordeal, Keating never wanted to hear a dire prognosis, and Lindsay phoned Hunniford to discuss how they should break the news. This protectiveness would continue until the end. Collecting results of tests in future years, Keating sent in an advance party; when she finally entered the room, Lindsay would simply say: "These are the options, darling." Doctors insisted she must know the facts in order to make informed decisions, but he researched via the internet, and consulted friends with experience of cancer before revealing anything disturbing over a two- or three-week period.
Upstairs in the bedroom where Keating would return many times to recuperate from gruelling treatments, Lindsay hugged his wife and just told her how sorry he was. Another more precautionary operation was recommended, this time to excise vulnerable tissue and test the lymph nodes, which were at that time shown to be clear. After six weeks of radiotherapy the doctors were upbeat: the cancer had been caught early and she appeared to be in remission. Devastated by her diagnosis but resolutely optimistic as she would remain, Keating decided to keep the illness private, get back to work as soon as she could. She couldn't bear to be seen as a victim, her humour deflected by inquiries after her health, or to tempt fate by becoming a beacon of hope for the afflicted. Stronger still was the desire to concentrate on her children, rather than her public. Although her grandmother had died of breast cancer, she was never tested for genetic predisposition because the whole notion of prescribed destiny, inescapable or not, would have dented her determination that all would be well.
Both her mother and her husband blame the hormonal meltdown of a death and a birth for igniting the cancer. Though close to her father, Keating had been too pregnant to visit him before his death, and felt things remained unsaid. Unable to cope, she was prescribed the antidepressant Lustral, though her family now feels that what she needed was sleep, love and time to accept events. "She didn't know whether to enjoy the birth of her baby or grieve for her father," says Hunniford, who nurtured her with three home-cooked meals a day. She was plagued by insomnia and talked of feeling her body race as she lay in the dark.
Always a devotee of vitamins and homeopathy, it was at this point that Keating began to supplement her reliance on the homeopath Jan de Vries with visits to more spiritual healers. According to her family, a reflexologist healer in Sussex, Anna Poyner, got her off the antidepressants in six weeks. She consulted the hypnotist Paul McKenna for help with sleeping. Later, with the first diagnosis of cancer, she sought out Jack Temple, Fergie's former guru, who strapped pills to Keating's leg to draw out toxins and advised her to avoid black stockings, the dye of which could poison her system. He also warned her to beware electricity, especially the electromagnetic environment of a TV studio. At the same time she visited the media-friendly Matthew Manning, an advocate of self-healing, who placed his hands above her head, an umbrella of "universal energy" that — she believed — radiated renewal from this charismatic man into his patients.
It was the Dutch cancer specialist Hans Moolenburgh who first suggested that those who make the biggest changes to their lives have the best chance of surviving cancer, advice taken to heart. He prescribed enzyme pills and coffee enemas, but no caffeine to drink. Her approach to diet became fastidious: no dairy, processed foods, synthetic sugars, additives, alcohol; she based meals on organic vegetables, fresh fish, juices, wheatgrass, mineral supplements, miso soup.
She had always lived healthily, was slim and fit, drank in moderation, smoked the occasional cigarette. Apart from appendicitis as a child, her mother can recall no other illnesses. So why her?
Her subsequent journey of enlightenment centred not only on an attempt to heal but to answer the impossible question: what had she done to deserve this punishment? Given the statistical likelihood of contracting some form of cancer, many of us would be more likely to ask, why not me? But though she hungered for anonymity, she was not one of us; her life was so charmed that maybe she was ill-equipped to face disaster. She had long believed she was protected by angels who found her parking spaces and left a calling card of a white feather wherever they had intervened. Where had they gone? "My assessment," says her mother, "is she felt a failure in some way, as if it was her fault almost that she'd got sick. She had never failed at anything in her life."
In January 1998, Keating went back to work presenting This Morning, and later the consumer watchdog show We Can Work It Out. The next two years were halcyon times; weekends were spent in a rented cottage in the picturesque idyll of Fowey in Cornwall, which had become the couple's second home. Convinced of her full recovery, she had no compunction in 1999 about answering a tabloid's questions on how she stayed so healthy. Later that year, however, she discovered the cancer was back and was scheduled for mastectomy in January 2000. In photographs of that millennium eve celebrated with her extended family in Florida, she looks fresh and dazzling, hiding her fear for her children's sake.
Her mother never addressed the possibility of death with her; but from that point Keating and Lindsay talked every night about the bleaker possibilities and how they could cope — an open channel of communication which was as important to her as the experimental therapists she would declare saviours. Immediately after the mastectomy, she underwent a reconstruction using muscle from her back — a decision the family came later to question, as it caused scarring, pain and posture problems, maybe even contributing to spinal curvature. The once-containable cancer had mutated into an aggressive, hormone-receptive strain, and the oncologist's view was dismal: he would be surprised if she lived for 18 months. Before she began her chemotherapy (accompanied by her brother Michael, because her mother was too recognisable) she, Lindsay and their boys travelled to Fowey and snuggled against the February wind and rain with log fires; her spirit was flattened. On the way home as the children slept in the back of the car, Keating said: "The only way I'm going to survive is if we move to Cornwall."
In order to live, she felt she had to change everything. Lindsay simply concurred; whatever she wanted he would provide. The next day he called Peter Powell and resigned, selling shares in Worldpop, the internet music site he had created, for a sum rumoured to be close to £3m. This windfall would furnish his wife's tireless quest for a cure. They bought and renovated a cliff-top villa called Menlo, perched above a perfect du Maurier Cornish cove; she seemed to thrive on relaxation and sea air, walking her dog, Candy, a wheaten terrier, in nearby Alldays field, and collecting nettles for her soup.
Keating began her chemotherapy that month wearing a wig made for her by her hairdresser stepfather, which nobody suspected. Every night she set the alarm to get up before the children so they would never see her baldness; though one morning they rushed into her bedroom too early, and didn't comment, which meant she could relax. (They were never burdened by their mother's cancer; up to the end of her life, they believed her treatments and pain were due to back problems.) Their father commissioned a little boat, a 70ft wooden clinker, in which they pottered around the bay. The boys were going to start school in September, and their parents instantly entered the successful fight to stop an Orange mobile-phone mast being erected outside the building.
Lindsay remembers it as an uplifting summer; never more so than when he brought home a magazine containing an advertisement for the American healer Brandon Bays's book The Journey. It described the author's success in healing herself in 61/2 weeks from a stomach tumour the size of a "basketball" by unblocking long-standing emotional problems. Through a mutual friend they arranged to meet at Bays's house near Slough, a tranquil white space empty but for a few Indian artefacts, candles, wafting individuals. Keating and her husband both did the "journey process" with Bays, though it is hard to imagine what Keating's blocks from the past might have been. Intellectually unfulfilled, maybe. And although much complimented, she was never happy with her looks; at her funeral, one friend who had known her as a pelmet-skirted teenager suggested that she would be wearing the shortest angel tunic in heaven, but others say she lacked womanly confidence until sometime into her marriage. Heavier were the regrets about not having seen her father before his death.
Bays suggested they might like to meet up with her in Byron Bay, a mecca of holistic philosophy 90 miles south of Brisbane. The Dalai Lama stops there; the holy woman Peace Mother shakes her rattles in the town hall to exorcise the inner serpents of her audience, who (including Keating and Lindsay) then spill onto the streets, dancing and shouting. It is a town without inhibition, but also 12, 000 miles from Keating's mother, who — as the family spent more time in Australia, eventually deciding to stay — struggled to understand why her daughter chose to live so far away at such a fragile time. But Keating instantly loved the sea and skies, the freedom from English rain and cynicism and her own celebrity.
She tried light therapy, where different-coloured lights are shone on the subject, resonating at different frequencies and balancing the chakras. Crystals were laid on her body to stimulate energy flow in the areas where she believed cancer flourished. She practised sound therapy with Tibetan bowls; and "overtoning", where the therapist scans the body with his or her voice in the belief that sound can locate imbalance and strengthen molecular structure. She joined a body-electronics group where members fast for 10 days, then energise one member by placing fingers on the 20 body points from which energy flows in and out, thinking positive thoughts. Lindsay directed a video, Instant Calm, for Universal Pictures, presented by Keating, who interviewed three spiritual leaders, including Brandon Bays.
On that first holiday they established a pattern, rising at seven for yoga; greeting the t'ai chi instructor before breakfast and, by 10am, awaiting that day's experimental nutcase who would certainly come calling. After five weeks they returned to Fowey, where Lindsay edited the video and Keating travelled to Tuscany for a spiritual workshop, then back to Byron Bay for more, convinced that she was winning.
In December 2001, after a stable year and a half, she learnt after tests in London that her cancer had spread to the other breast and probably other organs. She also had a significant lump in her neck, which she didn't want to have tested but which indicated invasion of the lymphatic system. A second mastectomy was suggested, which her mother begged her to have; but with the knowledge of advanced tumours, she decided to concentrate on self-healing, arguing that her immune system would not be strengthened by further surgery. "I'll take the drugs, but I can't face another big operation," she told Lindsay. "The only way is if my body heals itself. I need to be strong for where I'm going." There followed the darkest, most depressing chapter in the story.
Keating left for Byron Bay with a suitcase and nowhere to stay when she arrived. Lindsay followed with their sons, imagining he would bring them home with their mother's body in under six months. When he arrived seven days later, the children confused to see their happy mother in the grip of a raging fear and fury, the only house he could find was hot and cramped. With most of her practitioners away, Keating had fallen in with what her husband called the "fluttery people". She refused to see friends or take phone calls and just wept. Lindsay and his sons also had to battle to be with her; like a wounded animal, she just wanted to curl up and die alone in the unlikely elephants' graveyard of Byron Bay.
Medically she was on a downward slide, and after her family had barged through her misery (Hunniford called every day; she and her husband visited seven times in two years) she agreed to see Professor Martin Tattersall, consultant oncologist at Sydney's Royal Prince Albert hospital. He quietly observed that she ought not even be alive at this stage of advanced disease. She had started taking tamoxifen in October 2000 and now began a course of the anti-cancer drug Zoladex. Over the months she endured a rollercoaster of exorbitant then modest cancer counts; the drugs seemed to be working and then not. To friends, Lindsay likened it to driving a car without a steering wheel. They found a naturopath in Brisbane and an iridologist in south Sydney; researched the psychic surgeon John of God in Mexico, who operates through spirit guides, with a view to seeking his help in Mexico. If Keating couldn't reverse the cancer, she vowed she would manage it by staying in Byron Bay.
Playing tambour and drums, her capacity for fun returned. Her husband put in an offer on Taylor's Country House, an eight-bedroom former guesthouse on one level, set back from the beach so the noise of the sea would not disturb her. Its summerhouse became her meditation room. In all this Russ Lindsay, an energetic 43-year-old with an engagingly direct manner, was a study in devotion: a cook and social secretary, a nurse towards the end, a mother and father to their thriving, barefoot boys. But he is also the first to admit that it was wealth that made these adventures possible: there were always treats, nannies, helpers, first-class travel. As their medical insurance did not extend to overseas treatments, he must have spent a million pounds moving his wife around the world, leaving no potential treatment unexplored. It was his version of buying her a diamond as big as Burton gave Taylor in a less compelling love affair than this one.
Their last years were ones of huge personal indulgence, a wild shopping spree in the bustling marketplace of deluxe spiritual healing. But why not? Others might have chosen more materialistic versions of that extravagance, but to her the hope and mental palliative offered by travel and therapies were priceless charms against impending danger. Lindsay took treatments with her, keen-eyed for signs of fraudulence but aware that if he did not accompany his wife on her journey they could not remain together. All that mattered, he said, was extending Caron's life so the boys could have their mother for another month or year.
A couple of days after Christmas 2002, while body-boarding in the ocean, Keating hurt her back. MRI scans in Sydney revealed tumours growing from her vertebrae towards her spinal cord, resulting in agonising immobility. Three aggressive bouts of radiation in the following nine months enabled her to walk with a stick or a Zimmer frame, but one false move could have seen her dead or paralysed. It was at this dire, but not despairing, point that her phalanx of Byron Bay helpers came into their own: the team credited by her husband with extending her life. Submitting to their care was a full-time job: her GP erected a drip at home to administer mega-doses of vitamins, while she relied on her practitioner of Japanese acupuncture, a "universal energy" healer, and her "poo fairy" Denise, who would also lay on hands and have Keating sing to her as she performed colonics.
Many times their patient rallied from what looked like the end, and still hauled herself out of bed to make her boys' packed lunches. For her 40th birthday in October, Lindsay gave her a silver Mercedes 280SE coupe, and drove her around in it, his frail, girlish wife in flowing tie-dyed skirts with a Hindu bindi between her brows. Friends like Sir Cliff Richard visited — though nothing highlighted better the almost comical contrast between her showbiz roots and her ayurvedic present than the arrival in nirvana of Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee.
Still plagued by the unfairness of her situation, seeking reassurance that she was not a bad person, solace arrived in Byron that August with six red-robed Gyuto monks from Tibet. Invited as house guests, they made Keating a healing mandala from coloured sand, and butter sculptures of flowers and animals, all pujas to exorcise bad karma; on her lawns they performed a perpetual chant for her strength and soul. In a conversation with their rimposhe (leader), Keating wept with relief as he explained that her illness was not of her making, she had not been singled out for punishment: he had been in a monastery since he was four and still battled ill health. The fight to make sense of her plight vanished, and though she never admitted it, her husband believes she surrendered to the certainty of death at that point.
She made an appointment at the Paracelsus clinic in St Gallen, Switzerland, where cancer is treated with infusions of vitamins and minerals (in Keating's case, later laced with small doses of chemotherapy) and metal deposits in the body are extracted, including dental amalgam, which Keating had removed while there. Their hydrotherapy treatments heat the body to a temperature cancer cells cannot survive, but also necessitate lying for extended periods, which sent Keating's spine tumours into spasm. She flew home in agony, needing more radiation on vertebral tumours. In March 2004 she woke one day and said: "It's time to go home. I want to spend summer in Fowey." As she was due back at Paracelsus twice this year, they decided to sandwich a Cornish summer between two Swiss appointments, though she would not allow her sons to finish their term early to accompany her on the first of these. Instead she flew back to be met by her mother just before Easter.
After four encouraging days, she lay on a bench too long and was in agony. She was sent to a conventional cancer clinic for a scan, where the consultant just managed to contain his horror at the results; she began radiation and Hunniford told Lindsay to bring the boys, whatever their mother had decreed. On Easter Saturday, sustained by morphine patches, her legs swollen by cortisone-induced oedema, she still planned her mother's birthday at their hotel. The next day, she asked to climb Santis mountain in the cable car, but was persuaded to rest, so they painted eggs before she seemed to fade with fatigue. Her husband decided to take her home.
Hunniford and her husband went ahead to prepare their house, Michael Keating escorted the boys and Lindsay prepared to bring home his dying wife — whose liver and kidneys were barely functioning — in a smart and highly unsuitable Saab convertible. It took an hour to get her into the car: her agony necessitated one-inch steps but she was too proud to stand on a porter's trolley and be pushed. As Gyuto monks all over the world chanted to ease her passage from one world to the next, she drifted in and out of consciousness while her husband raced against the inevitable.
Back in Sevenoaks the next day, her sons had time to kiss their mother and tell her that they loved her; soon afterwards, Lindsay went downstairs to tell them that Mummy had gone. Later he will be able to explain how brave and blinkered, individual and ultimately dignified her journey had been; how she had exhausted herself searching for ways to stay by their side, but then realised that she must free their last shared days from restless questing. She never ran a marathon for charity, but she was better prepared than many of the 2,000 women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer every year in this country. Having promised Caron that she would never put her into a hospice, Hunniford never believed until the end that she would die; when the invitation for the new Caron Keating Foundation arrived for her approval last month, she couldn't grasp it was real, pleading: "No, stop this now. I want my daughter back."
Few would question the contribution of the first-class complementary therapists that Keating consulted, but her odyssey was in the end more mystical than medical, and raises questions. Did the blissed-out yogis and shamans and cosmic cowboys of Byron Bay really help her? Did they extend her life and improve its quality, or merely beguile her with enigmatic answers to her understandable but irrational questioning as to why she had been chosen?
Some close to her have wondered if she should have had more conventional treatments in this country, or a double mastectomy earlier. That is unknowable; but Keating found an inner peace which meant that she and her family, though tortured by grief, suffered less than some. All those, crackpot or not, who staunched her panic about the future by teaching her to live for the day, enhanced her positivity and purposefulness. With these she was empowered to ride up Santis mountain with a collapsed lung and go shopping for shoes a week before her death and, in the absence of a clinical cure, make life as rich and manageable as terminal cancer permits. A tragic, horribly premature death, but also a good one.
lf you would like to make a donation, please send cheques made payable to the Caron Keating Foundation to Menlo, Tower Park, Fowey, Cornwall PL23 1JD