John Farnham’s sons reveal telltale sign rock star dad missed before shock cancer diagnosis

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The sons of music legend John Farnham have revealed how their father mistook a cancerous lump for a painful mouth ulcer as they opened up about his life-saving surgery.

The 73-year-old is still recovering from a 12-hour operation that took 26 surgeons to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth and part of his jawbone on August 23.

His sons, Robert, 41, and James, 34, told A Current Affair their father was committed to a full recovery and revealed how he assured them he would be fine.

“When we first walked in and saw him he couldn’t speak, but we were like, ‘Dad, you’re going through. You are going to fight,” Robert said.

“He kept throwing his fist in the air and saying ‘yeah’.”

His sons Robert and James (pictured) said their father was determined to make a full recovery and revealed the subtle sign he used to put them at ease – a fist pump

Younger brother James has revealed for the first time how his father was diagnosed with oral cancer.

“He had trouble sleeping, he likes to sleep on his side, and he had a lump on his cheek which mom also noticed and made him go to the dentist,” he said.

“The dentist noticed it too and referred it to someone who knew more.”

Robert said his father initially thought the lump was a mouth ulcer, which caused him pain when it rubbed against his teeth.

“It turned out to be cancerous,” he said. “It’s damn terrifying.”

The brothers said their father informed them of the diagnosis by phone as soon as he received the news.

“It was unexpected,” James said. “It wasn’t something anyone was unprepared for.

The Farnham boys have thanked fans who have sent messages of support to the family.

“It was quite heartwarming to know Australia was behind him, I know he appreciated that, I remember when we first told him he had tears in his eyes,” James said.

“He never expects everyone to love him again.

“But they do, so it was good for him to hear that, thank you all.”

Farnham (pictured in 2020) is still recovering from a 12-hour operation that took 26 surgeons to remove a cancerous growth from his mouth and part of his jaw in August

Farnham (pictured in 2020) is still recovering from a 12-hour operation that took 26 surgeons to remove a cancerous growth from his mouth and part of his jaw in August

The musician is supported by his wife Jill and their two adult sons Robert and James (pictured, the Farnham family pose for a picture in 2018)

The musician is supported by his wife Jill and their two adult sons Robert and James (pictured, the Farnham family pose for a picture in 2018)

The brothers credited their mother Jill, who has been married to Farnham for 49 years, with being the rock of the family during their father’s cancer scare.

“Without mom, I think things would fall apart very, very quickly,” Robert said.

“She’s a very strong woman,” agreed her younger brother James.

He said his dad was recovering from “pretty hairy” surgery and felt a lot more “chippy” and was even cracking jokes.

Farnham is said not to be thinking about the possibility of singing again, but instead focused on a full recovery.

“There’s a long way to go, it’s definitely not in his mind,” Robert said.

The brothers spoke candidly about what it was like to have a “very public” surname and how they kept the details of their father’s surgery a secret.

The brothers credited their mother Jill, who has been married to Farnham for 49 years, with being the rock of the family during their father's cancer scare.

The brothers credited their mother Jill, who has been married to Farnham for 49 years, with being the rock of the family during their father’s cancer scare.

Farnham's sons Robert and James have revealed their father mistook a cancerous lump for a painful mouth ulcer and was encouraged by his wife Jill to go to the dentist.

Farnham’s sons Robert and James have revealed their father mistook a cancerous lump for a painful mouth ulcer and was encouraged by his wife Jill to go to the dentist.

THE INTERMITTENT SMOKING HABIT OF JOHN FARNHAM

John Farnham, 73, said he started smoking when he was 14.

His habit lasted until 1992 after starring in the production of Jesus Christ Superstar

He told the Herald Sun he quit ‘cold turkey’, but 12 years later, in 2004, when he was offered a box of cigars for Christmas, his smoking habit returned.

He officially kicked the habit for good just before his 70th birthday

“Stupid habit. It was a little easier to quit smoking cigars, but I better not smoke, I’m a fuckin’ singer for god’s sake,” he said.

“I’m using my lungs. I’ve noticed the change already. I’ve increased my reach, got a little more to give, cleared a blockage.

“A lot of people are fans and love it, you kind of live it publicly, which can be quite difficult,” Robert said.

“Everyone is so loving and caring, it was a bit of a cloak and a dagger because people were trying to figure out where he was.

“So we had secret passwords and stuff and nothing ever came out, which is a credit to those involved.”

Farnham’s two sons inherited their father’s musical gift with Robert the lead singer of rock band Rival Fire and James working as a sound engineer.

Farnham and his manager Glenn Wheatley created the album Whispering Jack in 1996, no Australian musician having sold more records since its release.

Gaynor Wheatley, the widow of Glenn Wheatley, said Farnham’s family only learned of his cancer weeks before his operation.

‘I think John suffers from this man thing that says ‘I’m fine’, and was lucky, and we have Jill to thank for taking him to the doctors (where they) found this legion in her mouth which has now been removed and addressed,’ she told the Today Show.

She said there were no complications and thanked the ‘hero’ surgeons who operated on Farnham, adding that he should be ‘beautiful’ by Christmas.

“I think at one point there were 26 surgeons, so these are our heroes, these are our rockstars,” Ms Wheatley said.

Farnham earlier spoke about his smoking habit, which he says started when he was a ‘dumb’ 14-year-old.

He quit “cold turkey” in 1992 after starring in Jesus Christ Superstar, but resumed the habit with cigars in 2004.

He officially quit smoking for good just before his 70th birthday.

“Stupid habit. It was a little easier to quit smoking cigars, but I better not smoke, I’m a fuckin’ singer for god’s sake,’ he told the Herald Sun in 2019 .

Farnham (pictured in 2016) said in a statement provided by his family ahead of his operation, a cancer diagnosis was something many people face every day

Farnham (pictured in 2016) said in a statement provided by his family ahead of his operation, a cancer diagnosis was something many people face every day

“I’m using my lungs. I’ve noticed the change already. I’ve increased my reach, got a little more to give, cleared a blockage.

Farnham, in a separate statement provided by the family ahead of his operation, said a cancer diagnosis was something many people face every day “and countless others have walked this path before me”.

“The one thing I know for sure is that we have the best specialist healthcare professionals in Victoria and we can all be thankful for that. I know I am,” he said.

It comes three years after Farnham was hospitalized with a serious kidney infection – which led him to quit cigars for good.


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