There are fears John Farnham’s decades-long singing career may be behind him after part of his jaw was removed along with a cancerous mouth tumour in a marathon surgery that he’s expected to take a long time to recover from.
The entertainer, who first raced to the top of Australia’s pop charts in 1967, went under the knife for almost 12 hours on Tuesday, cared for by experts from Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, with the procedure performed at a public hospital.
“We are (at) the beginning of a very long journey,” the 73-year-old’s talent manager David Wilson told The West Australian.
In a statement on Wednesday, Farnham’s wife Jill, and sons Rob and James said, “incredible teams of health care professionals … undertook this big job … and have given us a magnificent outcome”.
“John will remain in hospital for a period of time for recovery and post-operative treatment,” they said.
Jill Farnham said her husband of almost 50 years was in a stable condition in intensive care, declaring the tumour “successfully removed”.
“There is still a long road of recovery and healing ahead of us, but we know John is up for that task,” she said.
Head and neck surgeon Bruce Ashford said the surgery sounded “major” and Farnham’s recovery would take time.
“The jaw is pretty specialised, and while the surgeons who did this type of operation are very skilled … that function is really challenging to re-establish,” Associate Professor Ashford said.
“That’s where speech pathologists come into play and they really help people to speak and swallow and move well.
“Dentists are really important as well in re-establishing chewing, speaking and aesthetic function.
“There’s so many moving parts, that for each and every patient, we expect there to be some impact.
“Obviously, if we’re talking about someone who uses their voice professionally, they’d need to understand there’s a lot of work ahead.”
Curtin University speech pathology lecturer and researcher Lizz Hill said how much of Farnham’s jaw had been removed and what structure it had or would be replaced with in follow-up surgery was a key factor in how long he would take to regain function.
“I would expect a team of speech pathologists to be around him. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time,” Dr Hill said.
“We would want to prioritise his eating and drinking, getting physically healthy and his ability to talk and express his wants and needs before moving on to more complex things like singing and being able to produce those sounds clearly.
“We take for granted just how complex speech is. It’s a learned motor behaviour, and any change to that, particularly as an adult, is going to take a lot to get used to.”
Farnham hasn’t performed since February 2020, when he capped off the Fire Fight Australia charity concert for Black Summer bushfire relief, belting out his biggest hit You’re The Voice, alongside Queen’s Brian May and Olivia Newton-John, who died from cancer earlier this month.
It’s been a tough year for the national treasure, whose close friend and manager Glenn Wheatley died in hospital with COVID in February, leaving Farnham “devastated”.
The Farnham family said they were “genuinely overwhelmed” by the wave of support, love and messages they had received from all around Australia.
“This means so much to us as a family … John will be blown away,” they wrote.