Mark Pilgrim: 'A cancer warrior' who chose to 'embrace life'

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Mark Pilgrim
Mark Pilgrim
Photo: YouTube/Mark Pilgrim

Mark Pilgrim wanted to create awareness from the moment he was first diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 18.

The beloved radio presenter died on Sunday after battling stage four lung cancer. He was 53.

ALSO READ | A tribute to Mark Pilgrim

In a resurfaced interview with Medi Clinic, Pilgrim discussed how he was first diagnosed and shared a quote by Benjamin Franklin that would change his mindset, and life, forever.

"I was 18 years old when I realised something was wrong down in the sensitive area because a testicle started swelling," he said in the 2014 video. "One of the reasons why I didn't do anything about it, as an 18-year-old, I'd have to tell mom there's a problem, and mom would want to look."

Pilgrim shared that, while he can't remember how long it was before he said anything, he eventually told her, "she did look," and he was diagnosed after going to the doctor. 

The radio presenter highlighted the importance of having "any anomaly" checked because it could be detrimental to your health. 

"Because I didn't go to the doctor straight away, my cancer spread to my lungs and my kidneys," Pilgrim explained. "If I had nipped it in the bud, so to speak, and had my bud seen to, it wouldn't have spread. I wouldn't have had stage four cancer. So, I almost never made it. I was fortunate to survive."

Pilgrim shared that he went through depression while receiving treatment because someone he used to see when going for treatment died – "I realised we didn't have the same cancer, but the cancer that killed him was trying to kill me."

And then, everything changed.

"I was reading a Time magazine - an article on Benjamin Franklin - and he said: 'Some people die at 25, and they're only buried at 75.' I didn't have an Oprah moment going, 'Aha, I have an epiphany', but it planted a seed, and I realised that my focus was wrong. I was waiting to die instead of embracing life. But in order to embrace life, I had to give myself a goal. My goal was to one day be on radio."

After choosing to embrace life and his goal, Pilgrim joined his campus radio in the 80s and secured his first presenting gig at 5fm in 1993. 

Naturally inclined to be a speaker, spreading a message of positivity, and inspiring others with what he had been through, Pilgrim was also a motivational speaker. His autobiography, Beyond the Baldness, was published in 2015 and is about never giving up, fighting back and chasing your dreams.  

The year 2022 started with Pilgrim planning to mark 33 years in remission. Instead, he announced in February that he had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. 

Unbeknown to the public, doctors had given Pilgrim three months to live when he was diagnosed, Lloyd Madurai, managing director of HOT 102.7FM, told News24 on Sunday, but "he was determined to try everything".

ALSO READ | Mark Pilgrim refused to give up: 'He was originally given only three months'

Having opened his cancer journey to the public before, Pilgrim launched a YouTube video series chronicling his treatment.

"This section of my YouTube channel is for anyone going through cancer or supporting someone who is. It documents my journey and desires to find positivity," read the vlog description titled Mark's Cancer Journey – 2022.

Furthermore, the 53-year-old shared his journey on social media.

He was also open to discussing his journey with the media, hoping to create awareness. Pilgrim revealed to YOU magazine in March 2022 that he was initially not expecting it but felt better prepared this time. 

"This time around, I know the journey. It doesn't make it less scary, but I'm not as naïve," he told the magazine.

"I'm strong, and I'm scared. The two run side by side. I acknowledge both emotions, and that makes me stronger. You have the will to fight even harder when you're scared."

In an interview published in YOU's 29 December 2022 issue, Pilgrim remained positive after spending weeks in ICU recovering from multiple procedures to address a collapsed lung, saying, "It's a process. For some people, it's quicker – I'm one of the longer patients, but I just have to hang tight."

Pilgrim also shared that due to his health setback and hospital stay, he had to postpone being part of a medical trial based in the Netherlands for targeted cancer therapy.

Shortly after returning home from the hospital on New Year's Eve, News24 contacted Pilgrim for an interview. 

"Thanks for reaching out. Happy to do interviews," Pilgrim responded. "I am a little man-down at the moment without much energy."

The radio host took his final breath weeks later, with his fiancée, Adrienne Watkins, by his side. 

Tributes to the TV presenter echoed sentiments of his resilience, with Madurai emphasising that "Mark was a fighter."

Hot 1027 FM later shared a video tribute to Pilgrim set to a melodic version of Journey's Don't Stop Believing - a mantra Pilgrim adopted during his journey.

In the video description, the radio station described Pilgrim as "a true gentleman of radio, a cancer warrior and a man who loved his family with every fibre of his being".

READ MORE | Tributes pour in for Mark Pilgrim: 'We'll miss your cheeky humour'

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