Anton Enus on his cancer battle: 'I thought my TV career was over'

The SBS presenter returns to the news desk this week nearly two years after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Here, he shares his road to recovery.

A few days ago, I walked into the main atrium at SBS and a passing colleague smiled at me and said: “It’s great to have you back”.  

It felt so wonderful I almost cried.

Dial back proceedings to Monday, 5 December 2016, and I felt like weeping for entirely different reasons.

My world was rocked by a diagnosis that took me totally by surprise: it was bowel cancer. I went straight from the doctor’s consulting room that day, to the newsroom. I stepped in front of the camera as usual and did a live news update. In retrospect, it wasn’t the smartest move.

Right afterwards I told our executive producer what had happened. He immediately said, ‘I think you should be at home right now’. He was right, of course. I was a little shaken and perhaps not emotionally prepared for what it all meant. And it meant a lot.

I was not emotionally prepared for what it all meant. And it meant a lot.

What followed was a sometimes astonishing whirl of oncologists, surgeons and their registrars. I was thrust into rounds of radiation, pelvic exenteration surgery, and chemotherapy that went on for months. It wasn’t always pretty. In fact, I cried a few times, sometimes just out of frustration, often because of the relentless fatigue.

Anton Enus in hospital.
Source: Supplied

At the same time, the support I got from hospital staff, friends, SBS World News fans, and my partner Roger, was just phenomenal. How I could possibly have got through this without their love and caring is beyond me.

Bizarrely, I’d been an ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia since 2014, and my own diagnosis only brought more awareness of the disease. Cyclists on the street would yell out a message of support as they rode by, strangers would stop me to say they’d requested a stool sample kit, friends and colleagues slathered me with goodwill. I wish every person diagnosed with cancer should be so fortunate.

Bizarrely, I’d been an ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia since 2014.

Today the scans show I’m cancer-free and getting my fitness back. I’m running again and playing tennis with my coach, who works me hard. And, most importantly, I feel ready to return to the newsroom. We’ve done a few rehearsals in preparation for my new slot on Friday and Saturdays and I’m feeling very good about it.

Anton returns to SBS World News this week.
Source: Supplied

Over the years, viewers have trusted the team enough to invite us back into their lounge rooms night after night. It’s not something we take for granted. We certainly work to maintain that level of acceptance.

I should also add that for more than thirty years the weekend audience has been accustomed to switching on and finding the familiar presence of Lee Lin Chin [who departed SBS in July] and all that she personifies: a sense of personal styling unique in the world of television news, a voice dripping with authority, and every now and then a wicked twinkle in the eye.

I’ll be taking out the diamond stud I wear in my left ear and sticking to dark suits for the moment. And there’ll be no carefully dishevelled spiky hair; there is, after all, only one Lee Lin Chin. But I hope they’ll give this man in a conventional suit a go at filling that important weekend slot.

There was a time, debilitated by fatigue, bloated by a bewildering array of meds and struggling to get through some days, that I thought my career in television was over. That thought, I have to admit, was not as devastating as I might have predicted. I had found a quiet satisfaction and contentment with everyday simplicity: walking my dog Rosie, sitting at a beachside café enjoying a latte, listening to Brahms.

There was a time that I thought my career in television was over.

It sounds like a cliché, but facing a situation in which a doctor says you could die really focuses the mind. It reminds us to look for value in simple gratitude.

Anton, partner Roger, and dog Rosie.
Source: Supplied

But I have to say, yes, if the truth be told, there was also a part of me that hankered after that flashing red light in the studio that says ‘ON AIR’, the immediacy of crossing to a reporter in the middle of a hurricane, the importance of being part of a team telling the stories of people that sometimes get ignored. I don’t think it’s too grand to say those things, the nuts-and-bolts of public broadcasting shore up the kind of society we think of when we evoke modern Australia.

Next year will mark twenty years since I made my debut as an SBS World News presenter. It seems extraordinary that the time has passed so quickly. It feels like just the other day that I walked into the newsroom for the first time, a newly arrived migrant from South Africa, looking for a job - any job.

I was given a professional home and embraced by this family of broadcasters in a way that for me epitomised what multicultural Australia is all about. We are many but we’re also one.

Anton Enus will return to presenting SBS World News at 6.30pm on Friday 21 September. 

Bowel cancer is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia. Those at higher risk should be screened every two years from age 45. Find out more about testing kits here

Published 19 September 2018 at 9:55am, updated 19 September 2018 at 4:08pm
By Anton Enus