Reporter: Tara Brown
Producer: Stephen Taylor
He's known as the human headline. And for most of his career, Derryn Hinch has reveled in the notoriety of not just reporting the news but making it as well.
Not this time.
You see, Derryn is back in the spotlight because of his life-and-death battle with liver cancer. A transplant is now his only hope. If that doesn't happen very soon, he'll die.
It's as simple, and scary, as that.
STORY - TARA BROWN: It's typical Derryn Hinch- arriving in style. But, despite the limo and the smile, this is not the Logies. It's early October and his first date with chemotherapy doctors at Melbourne's Austin Hospital. He's hoping the big prize will be his very survival, for Derryn is dying of liver cancer.
DERRYN HINCH: The weirdest thing was asking the doctor, "How long have I got?" And he said, "12 months." And that's when it got me.
TARA BROWN: 12 months is such a short amount of time?
DERRYN HINCH: Mmm, it is. It makes - it makes minutes seem valuable, you know. Derryn's fought many battles in his 66 years, but this is his most serious. In theatre, radiologist Dr Mark Goodwin will try to stop the cancer from growing and spreading by injecting chemo drugs directly into the arteries that supply the tumour in the liver. Four years ago, Derryn's shrinking frame shocked all who saw him. He'd been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, which shouldn't have come as a surprise after his years of excessive drinking.
DERRYN HINCH: Look, that was a part of my life, which I loved, I wouldn't have missed it.
TARA BROWN: But that's the problem isn't it?
DERRYN HINCH: Yeah, no, but I wouldn't have missed it for quids. I mean, I say, yeah, obviously I drank too much and I was a fool, but if I sit back and said now, gee, I regret doing all that, well, I'd be, I'd be, I'd be a liar.
TARA BROWN: Even if it's killing you today?
DERRYN HINCH: Yeah, but nothing I can do about it. I mean, that's the tax I've paid. What I know now, I wish I'd been more sensible.
TARA BROWN: Back in 2007, Hinch quit a lifetime habit. To try to save his life, the legend of the long lunch gave up the grog but it was never going to be that easy. Doctors also found a suspicious spot on Derryn's liver, which, for much of that time, did nothing. But then, two months ago, it started growing, and doctors confirmed the worst - it is cancer.
TARA BROWN: So, your luck might be running out?
DERRYN HINCH: Oh, I think my luck has run out. I think my luck has run out. I mean that's - I don't doubt that at all. And the weirdest thing was that I've been going, having ultrasounds every two months and every four months, and every six months, and every time I come home I said, "That pesky spot ain't going nowhere, ain't doing anything. "As long as it ain't going nowhere, I ain't going nowhere." Well, now it is going somewhere.
TARA BROWN: Back in theatre, Derryn's awake, and this X-ray machine tracks every vital step as the chemotherapy is injected into his liver.
DERRYN HINCH: You mention the word 'chemo' and it just scares the hell out of people, but, you know, it's part of what has to be done, and so we'll just see how I react to it.
TARA BROWN: Is it scaring the hell out of you?
DERRYN HINCH: No, I'm fine.
TARA BROWN: As unshakeable as Hinch is, there is more bad news.
TARA BROWN: We've always thought that there was one tumour, but does this tell you a different story?
DR GOODWIN: It does. It shows there are a number of small tumours there.
TARA BROWN: Dr Goodwin counts as many as eight tumours. They may be small, but show Derryn's cancer has advanced from the early stage to intermediate.
TARA BROWN: How does this affect Derryn's chances?
DR GOODWIN: The fact that he has multiple tumours rather than a single tumour is a negative, so that's not in his favour. However, what really matters is how many he has after this treatment.
TARA BROWN: After three hours in the operating theatre, Derryn's reunited with wife Chanel. But the waiting game has just begun. They won't know for another four weeks if the treatment has done its job.
CHANEL HINCH: Derryn doesn't stress. He's a perpetual optimist. So I do that for him.
TARA BROWN: The strain of living with this terminal illness is starting to show on Chanel, but not on Derryn. But we are talking about the possibility of dying.
TARA BROWN: Have you thought it through? Have you confronted that?
DERRYN HINCH: Yeah, I've - look. To the extent that I'd hate to say this in front of Chanel, but if this goes arse up and I die, well, I die. You can't do much about that.
CHANEL HINCH: He does have amazing longevity in his family. I mean they all died about 92, 93, which might get him through.
TARA BROWN: Yeah, so you might be stuck with him for a while yet?
CHANEL HINCH: I know, yeah.
TARA BROWN: You've confronted that, too?
CHANEL HINCH: I hope so.
TARA BROWN: Chemotherapy is meant to make you feel sick, but it hasn't silenced Hinch. He's spent the last four weeks getting on with his life, doing what he loves - the drive-time shift on Melbourne radio 3AW.
DERRYN HINCH (ON RADIO): I can't contemplate retiring. I mean, I always said I'd die in the job. Maybe sooner than I thought!
TARA BROWN: You've approached this in a very public way. I wonder if that helps you feel bulletproof? That if you talk about it loud enough it ain't going to get you?
DERRYN HINCH: It probably does. It probably does. I mean, I've had a mechanism all my life when, in times of danger, I've resorted to almost
DERRYN HINCH in the third person - the journalist watching
TARA BROWN: Well, a month after his chemo, the results are in and, again, the news is not good. Derryn's liver doctor at the Austin Hospital, Professor Paul Gow, says, while the tumours have shrunk, Derryn's liver is so fragile, his only chance at survival is a new one - and fast.
PROF. PAUL GOW: We would want to get you transplanted in the next - within the next year, maximum, I think. So, this is a bad cancer, it's a bad disease. It's not just going to sit there dormant for a long time.
DERRYN HINCH: OK, well, that's it.
TARA BROWN: Learning he may only have a year to live,
DERRYN HINCH is, for once, lost for words.
DERRYN HINCH: Like, if we move ahead... and stop sniffling... if we, um...if I...excuse me...
PROF. PAUL GOW: Untreated, there's no doubt this cancer will take his life. So, there is some medical urgency to get this undertaken as soon as possible, but there's lots of other people on our waiting list in the exact same situation.
TARA BROWN: Bad health is a great leveller and, so,
DERRYN HINCH now becomes Joe Blow. Like everyone else with his prognosis, Derryn needs to be assessed for transplantation. If he passes, he goes onto a waiting list and, if an organ becomes available in the time he has left, a computer helps choose who gets it.
TARA BROWN: I think there is some concern that, because Derryn is so high profile, that he's getting special treatment, that there is some celebrity transplant list. Is there?
PROF. PAUL GOW: There's not. So, look - organs are matched quite simply really with - this is liver transplantation - by size, by blood group, and then by need. And, so, people are ranked by this computer score, with the sickest person getting the next available liver.
TARA BROWN: So, for that computer, Derryn would be an anonymous recipient?
PROF. PAUL GOW: Yeah, yeah.
TARA BROWN: Do you deserve an organ transplant?
DERRYN HINCH: Part of me says I do, sort of thing. I've got a lot more to do, which sounds arrogant. I think I've got a lot more I can contribute. But, um, part of me says, "You probably don't deserve it because you brought it on yourself." But, gee, it's dangerous territory to say, "Am I worthy?" You said, "Do I deserve it?" And if I say 'yes' - but then I have to say I do deserve it more than somebody else - probably not, probably not.
TARA BROWN: Just because so much of it is self-inflicted?
DERRYN HINCH: Because a lot of it is self-inflicted and because I'm 66 years of age.
TARA BROWN: If you do get a new liver, would you start drinking again?
DERRYN HINCH: Oh, never. I'm even - I mean, this year, I'm not going to drink. It's like you might say, "Oh, well, I've only got a year left so let's get on the piss." I mean, that would be absolutely stupid.
TARA BROWN: It mightn't look like it but Derryn has been very good since he got his first bad news four years ago. He hasn't touched alcohol since.
JACKIE WEAVER: When we were married, you used to say, "I'd rather die than give up drinking."
DERRYN HINCH: That's true. And when the doctor first told me that, my first reaction was, "Well, no, I'd rather die."
TARA BROWN: Life has changed in so many ways. Once married to actress
JACKIE WEAVER: And I used to say, "Yeah, sure, I've got a drinking problem. "I'm married to it."
TARA BROWN: ..and almost married to activist Lynda Stoner, they knew Derryn as the great winer and diner. But it's the sober Hinch they love and support today.
TARA BROWN: When you ladies learned what Derryn was facing, what was your reaction?
LYNDA STONER: Shattered. We always think of him as being completely invincible and, um - He's remarkable, so I personally don't want to give energy to anything but the best possible outcome because we all agree that life without him would be unthinkable, so...
TARA BROWN: And, Jacki, for you, when you heard?
JACKIE WEAVER: Yeah, I agree with everything Lynda said. I'm, I - I couldn't stop crying when he told me. I don't want him to die.
DERRYN HINCH has no plans to say goodbye to anyone just yet - not his former flames or, more importantly, his present wife, Chanel, but the doctors couldn't be clearer - only a liver transplant in the next year will save his life. And wherever Derryn's journey takes him, he's asked us to show it, with the promise of no holding back. One way or another, this to-be-continued story will have an ending. It may or may not be a happy one.
TARA BROWN: If you get the news that a transplant is also no option for you, that you're not healthy enough, or for whatever reason, does the Hinch that we see here sitting here today, who's fatalistic, optimistic, does he crumble?
DERRYN HINCH: No.
TARA BROWN: When you know that there are no options?
DERRYN HINCH: No, no, look - I'm - I know I always had a - and it sounds very shallow - I've always had a joke with this, there's less to me than meets the eye. I won't have deep, reflective psychological thoughts about what could have been and what should have been. I mean, I will look back and say, "Well, you weren't here as long as you hoped, but they knew you were here."