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Honoured Citizen of Diss talks about his battle with cancer

Diss, Norfolk. Peter Gillings of Gillings of Diss. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography
Diss, Norfolk. Peter Gillings of Gillings of Diss. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography

You can read the first instalment of Peter Gillings’ life story - In His Own Words - exclusively in the Diss Express (out March 16)

One of Diss’ best-known personalities has spoken of his three-year battle with cancer.

Peter Gillings, 69, who runs Gillings of Diss junkyard, was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in the summer of 2014.

Following surgery, the cancer spread to his lungs, prostrate and lymph nodes, which he has been fighting ever since.

Mr Gillings, who was made an Honoured Citizen of Diss in March 2016, is now is on his third type of chemotherapy, after the first two failed.

“When I was first diagnosed, the doctors told me to be prepared for it to spread, and that’s exactly what it did,” he said.

“It was a shock, but I’ve never been one to cry over spilt milk.

“There is nothing you can do about it, it’s just one of those things. You get dealt a hand and you accept it.

“Before this, I must admit I was worried about my old age and who was going to pay for my care.

“Well, now I haven’t got to worry about it, as there won’t be an old age. I am in it now, and it is what it is.”

Mr Gillings moved to Diss with his parents, Bill and Nell, in 1962, when he was 14-years-old.

Gillings of Diss has been based in Mission Road for more than 55 years, and is where he also lives.

He is known to hundreds of people in the area and, among others things, is known for driving the town’s carnival queen each year and, more latterly, for appearing on TV’s Come Dine With Me and Salvage Hunters.

In 2012, he drove the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk through the town when the Royal Anglian Regiment was given the Freedom of Diss.

Mr Gillings was also guest of honour at the reception, hosted by then mayor Graham Minshull.

He has appeared as a regular guest on Park Radio, which he officially opened last year. He is also a Freeman of London.

“I love Diss,” he said. “I wasn’t born here, but I feel as though I have never known anywhere else and it is a place I have always called home.

“I have been accepted here; much to my amazement, because I am still an outsider, and still talk funny.

“But, if there is one thing this cancer has reminded me, it is how the people of Diss are absolutely the kindest, warmest people.

“I really get choked at the way people in the town have shown me support over the last three years.

“People have brought round meals, offered lifts to hospital and all sorts of things to show me they care.

“This includes people I don’t even really know.”

Mr Gillings has been married to his second wife, Patricia, 76, who lives in America, for 23 years.

He has two children, Toni, 49, who drives for Diss’ Able Taxis, and Simon, 45, who sells motor homes in America.

He has been on his latest chemotherapy tablets for six months.

“The first two went wrong, the second disastrously so,” he said. “They were both intravenous and, with the second, I collapsed in hospital, swallowed my tongue and was paralysed. I never get frightened, but I was then.

“I’d always imagined the end would be in a Ferrari, on the M1; not on a trolley in the back room of a hospital, waiting 10 hours for a bed, with your pants down.”

Doctors have told Mr Gillings this treatment will be his last.

“After that, I have been told there is no more, and it will be lights out,” he said.

“If I can keep taking the pills, I get some kind of life, which is better than no life at all.”

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