Tom Long was once one of Australia’s favourite stars, appearing in a string of successful TV shows and movies including The Dish, The Postcard Bandit and SeaChange. He hasn’t been on screens since 2012, but appeared on Sunday evening’s episode of The Project to reveal he’s been suffering a terminal health issue.
Described by the show as being in “the fight of his life”, Long explained that he once collapsed on stage and that he hasn’t acted since. Appearing on The Project with a shaven head and scars on his scalp, the 50-year-old explained that he’d been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2012. Multiple Myeloma is an incurable cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow that severally impact the immune system.
“They said that it was terminal,” Long told host Lisa Wilkinson alongside his wife, Rebecca Fleming. “I looked up Google and they said two to three years.”
When questioned by Wilkinson if he thought he could beat the disease when he was diagnosed, the Book of Revelation actor thought his time was up. Seven years later and he’s still alive, going through chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and natural therapies to try beat the disease.
He also managed to find love with Fleming, who also appeared on the show and explained how she fell in love with Long.
“We met through a friend of mine who lived across the road from Tom and we had this glance that our friend noticed,” she revealed.
An emotional Long admitted he felt nervous about his future with his wife and said this fear was why it took so long for the pair to get together.
“I didn’t want to put Bec through it,” he said, before revealing doctors in December told him he had between three and 12 months to live. As such, he left intensive care and married Fleming in what he described as a “magical” ceremony.
“I didn’t think I’d make it,” he said. “I was so unwell.”
While some health professionals were preparing Long with palliative care, another doctor put him forward for a clinical trial of CAR T-cell therapy in the United States. Long will be one of 18 participants in the trial.
Professor Miles Prince — who suggested Long for the trial — also appeared on the show and said the treatment is about rejigging the immune system. As part of the treatment, Long’s t-cells will be harvested and genetically modified to identify and kill the cancer cells.
“It can cure leukaemias when everything else has failed and those t-cells will stay in that person’s body forever,” Prince claimed. “So any resurgence will automatically be jumped on and killed.”
Long said it chances with other treatments “weren’t that good” but admitted he had prepared himself for death.
Wilkinson later confirmed on the show that Long would be travelling to the United States on Thursday and will wait in America to see if the treatment takes.
Viewers at home were moved by the story and quickly took to social media to share their own stories with others.
One person wrote: “My dad was diagnosed with MM and given 12 months. It was an extremely rare disease back then. Within that time along with his positive frame of mind, and the support of my amazing mum, research was so active they found treatments that gave us another 9 years with him. Good to hear research is still so progressive, good luck and strength to all those with this diagnosis.”
Another comment read: “Good luck, Tom. It’s a bloody awful disease I should know I’ve been fighting it for nearly 12 years and it’s so bloody hard.”
A third message added: “Tom you are an amazing human being and your story brought a tear to my eye. I’m so sorry that you have had to endure this. Wishing you all the very best on this next journey. My hopes and best wishes are with you and your family.”