Vancouver radio legend George Garrett opens up about cancer fight

During his time as Vancouver’s most celebrated radio news reporter, George Garrett broke exclusive after exclusive. But now, he’s sharing a story no one will be happy to hear.

The man known best for his time at CKNW over a period of more than four decades tells CityNews he is battling cancer. He has had multiple surgeries in recent months, after his daughters initially spotted growths on his head.

Garrett is dealing with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, and says doctors now tell him the cancer is in his head — and has possibly spread to his neck. He’s now waiting to get a scan to figure out how far the cancer has spread, and how best it can be treated.

“It kept appearing on my head,” Garrett told CityNews this week, about the growths on his scalp. “I’ve had about four surgeries now, and they do one, and another thing pops up … The doctors are now saying it’s not really a good idea to continue with surgery because we just can’t keep up with it. The cancer is in your head, and it’s now in your neck. The next concern would be, will it be in my lungs … I’m waiting now for what is now called a PET scan, and I’ll just have to stay on the waiting list until I can get it.”

George Garrett

(Courtesy: Facebook/George Garrett)

This cancer diagnosis may strike some as especially cruel for a man who has given so much to patients with this disease over the years, through his work with the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society (VCDS), which he co-founded. But Garrett dismissed that suggestion quickly.

“No, because I’ve already had the experience [of seeing a champion for cancer patients receive a diagnosis],” Garrett responded. “One of the fellow co-founders with me [of the VCDS] with me was a man named John MacInnes, who was very passionate about the welfare of cancer patients. And within about a year of us working together, raising funds and so on, he was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Believe it or not, he died within six weeks. So I realized then that cancer can strike anybody very quickly, and can take your life.”

Garrett is no stranger to adversity or covering difficult situations. Most significantly, back in 1992, his jaw was broken while covering riots in Los Angeles. Violence had broken out following the acquittals of four police officers — three of them white — who had been charged with excessive force while arresting Rodney King, a Black man.

He also holds lifetime awards from the Jack Webster Foundation and the Radio Television Digital News Association, having broken stories related to the infamous Clifford Olson child serial killer case, and his coverage of a large riot at the BC Penitentiary — among countless others.

“There’s no better thing than radio news for me. It’s, I think, a very fulfilling job.”

Related article: Q & A with George Garrett, an intrepid reporter

In his personal life, the 87-year-old has also faced difficult challenges. He lost his son Ken in 1987 in a canoeing accident. And for more than a decade, he has been a caregiver for his wife Joan, as she battled Alzheimers. She passed away late last year.

This cancer fight is just the latest challenge, but during CityNews’ interview with Garrett, you wouldn’t know he was dealing with it.

“I’m a positive person and I’m so blessed,” Garrett said with a laugh. “I’m so blessed, I think as all British Columbians are, to have the kind of medical knowledge we have here. I speak of the doctors, the plastic surgeons, the radiologists, all the people in the health-care system who know what they’re doing. And I happen to live in Surrey. So I’ve been to the Jim Pattison Centre a few times now for surgery. And it’s a very, very efficient system that works very well.”

And as he waits on the results of his PET scan, Garrett is optimistic about the potential options.

“It might be radiation, and there’s something relatively new called immunotherapy,” Garrett said. “It’s a way of enhancing your own immune [system] to fight against cancer. That’s being tried in some places, apparently, and perhaps it has some use here.”

George Garrett

George Garrett driving cancer patients to treatments. Garrett was a member of a small team that formed a volunteer program to help patients when the BC Cancer Society stopped offering free transportation to treatments in 2015. There are now hundreds of drivers serving the Lower Mainland. (Courtesy: Garrett family)


As for why he’s sharing his story, Garrett says that decision is driven about his compassion for fellow cancer patients. Well before his diagnosis, as mentioned above, Garrett spent years helping cancer patients get to various medical appointments through his work with the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society.

“In 2015, the BC Cancer Society discontinued running free trips for cancer patients. Along with two other guys, we formed a new volunteer cancer drivers society,” said Garrett. “I was a driver who took cancer patients to treatments until we got to the point where my daughters said, ‘You’re too old to drive cancer patients’ … We have hundreds of drivers serving the Lower Mainland all the way out to Chilliwack, and now including Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond, which formerly been served by another organization.

“So it’s a going concern, and we’re very happy to provide this service. I never thought that I might have to use it myself, and that’s a possibility.”

Ever the positive thinker, Garrett repeatedly mentioned the care and support provided by his daughters Linda and Lorrie, and also mentioned the recent birth of his great-granddaughter, Anna, and the joy she has brought to the family.

George Garrett

George Garrett with his great-grandchild, Anna in December, 2021 (Courtesy: Garrett family)

As he takes on this latest challenge, Garrett’s gratitude comes through more clearly than anything else during this interview.

“I know that I have a lot of support in the community,” Garrett said. “A lot of my old listeners are dying off, unfortunately. But I’ve been around so long, I do appreciate the support I’ve had from everyone, and I’m sure this will engender more support. That’s not really what I’m after. I want to get the message out: If you’re faced with something like cancer, you’re in a fortunate position if you happen to live in British Columbia, in Canada, where we have a great health system compared to so many countries in the world, and we should be very grateful for that.”

If you’d like to show your support, Garrett asks that you consider a donation to the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, or perhaps even sign up to drive patients to appointments yourself. The society is trying to get an extra 60 drivers to serve Vancouver and Burnaby.

With files from John Ackermann

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