Big-hearted muso plays it forward


There couldn’t be a more appropriate entertainer for an upcoming Cancer Society fundraiser on Milford Sound than long-time Queenstown muso Nigel Hirst.

Hirst – who’ll perform, along with his wife Margaret O’Hanlon, on a Real Journeys overnight cruise on September 16/17 – late last year underwent treatment for an aggressive form of lymphoma cancer.

“The best thing was just getting a call from the Cancer Society when I was in Dunedin Hospital, and really just knowing that there’s someone who knows about it and cares for you, ‘cos you’re freaking out at the start.”

The 68-year-old, whose initial symptom was a lump under his right armpit, says his cancer diagnosis was scary.

“When you read about it, the survival rate’s only, like, 30 per cent”.

He was aware, for example, that Kiwi cricketing great Martin Crowe died from lymphoma cancer – “I met him, we played at a gig for him at [Arrowtown’s] Millbrook”.

As if that wasn’t frightening enough, Hirst says his three-weekly cycle of chemotherapy was debilitating.

As he posted on his Facebook page: “Chemotherapy is not as bad as it sounds, it’s way far worse.”

Hirst says: “It’s a nightmare, you just feel sick the whole time.

“You feel really weird because you’re full of drugs.

“You’re constipated, your piss is red and your skin’s all itchy, then you’ve got spots, then you’ve got a headache, then you can’t sleep.”

Lying on his couch at his Queenstown home, he says some days he couldn’t move further away than his letterbox.

“Normally I’m skiing and surfing and biking and paddling.

“Margaret called it ‘the chemo shuffle’.”

After about four months, however, he was given the all-clear.

He and O’Hanlon celebrated with a two-month surfing-orientated holiday in the North Island, before he chased surf for another month in Hawaii.

Hirst says he couldn’t have made it through his cancer journey without his wife’s support.

“A lot of people also came out of the woodwork who’d been through it, too.”

He also gained huge respect for the medical profession.

Now alcohol- and drug-free, Hirst says it’s payback time.

“If I can talk to anybody and help them through it, I will.”

He’s also looking forward to playing for Cancer Society fundraisers like September’s ‘cruise-for-a-cause’ on Milford Sound.

“The weird thing is I was supposed to play at a cancer ball in Queenstown last September, but I was lying in [nearby] Lakes District Hospital.”