When 47 year old children’s entertainer Wayne Oakes, from Irchester, Northamptonshire, was diagnosed with throat cancer last year he was told to stop working while undergoing chemotherapy.
But Wayne, who’s father to Jake, 16, and Josh, 17, and engaged to partner Vicky Clements, 36, used his ‘Mr. Mudge’ persona to put a brave face on his diagnosis and performed 124 shows in six months.
A children’s entertainer has told how he believes laughter truly is the best medicine – after clowning his way through 125 energetic performances while battling cancer.
When 47-year old Wayne Oakes was diagnosed with stage two throat cancer in June last year, people thought he’d hang up his red nose and go on bed rest.
He did anything but.
Instead, Wayne slapped on white facepaint, clipped on a red nose and donned a top hat – channelling what energy he had into his happy-go-lucky stage persona Mister Mudge.
While undergoing six months of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy he continued to perform 125 shows – despite vomiting on the way to performances and relying on a feeding tube to eat following the surgery to remove the tumour.
Ignoring the advice of his nurses and his 36 year old fiancee, Vicky Clements, an administrative accountant, he continued to perform.
His act involved juggling, unicycling, ventriloquism and magic tricks.
For Wayne, Dad to Josh, 17, and Jake, 16, performing made him momentarily ‘escape’ cancer and for those minutes on stage he felt ‘normal’.
Speaking from his home in Irchester, Northamptonshire, he says: “Being dressed up made me feel a million miles away from being a cancer patient.
“I didn’t want to waste away in a hospital bed feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to carry on as normal and escape chemo and everything it entailed.
“Seeing the kids smile and performing crazy magic tricks made me feel like I was the same old Wayne, not someone facing a death sentence.”
The dad has now been told he is in remission and credits his show, The Crazy World of Mister Mudge, for helping him to stay positive.
“My audiences had no idea I was sick – to them I was just a fun, bouncy entertainer.”
Wayne, had been a children’s entertainer for 16 years when, at 45, he found a ‘thumb-shaped’ lump on the side of his neck in May 2014.
The following month, doctors confirmed it was stage two throat cancer and it had spread to his lymph nodes.
The dad tells how his first concerns were for his family.
“I knew my sons would do what they could to help out, but Victoria and I had only been together three months and my illness seemed a lot for her to take on.
“But she vowed to stick by me.”
The following month, in July, Wayne had surgery at Northampton Hospital to remove his tumour and tonsils, leaving him drained, weak and unable to project his voice.
His oncologist advised Wayne to cancel the bookings he had scheduled for the next six months.
To his shock, Wayne flatly refused.
He says: “In my act, Mister Mudge is an energetic, funny and vibrant character. He’s not sick or weak.
“I wasn’t ready to give up Mister Mudge and surrender to being a patient.”
“I had 124 bookings and I was determined to smile, laugh and joke my way through them.
That month Wayne moved into Victoria’s flat with his sons. Victoria – who was then a teaching assistant – took leave from work so she could help feed Wayne through a tube between performances, as his surgery had left him in too much pain to eat.
In October Wayne began a six-week course of chemotherapy with radiotherapy. During the gruelling treatment, his beard and eyebrows fell out and he lost 1.5st.
As his body grew weaker, Wayne enlisted the help of his younger son, Jake, to join his act and take over the more energetic sections of his routine, like unicycling and tumbling on the floor.
Due to his struggles to project his voice, he also had to cut out the ventriloquism act from his routine.
Victoria adds: “During the chemo I begged him to stop or at least cut back on his performances, but he insisted he was able to do all of them.
“I drove Wayne to his shows, often pulling over on the way so he could vomit after his chemotherapy. I would watch as he covered his running nose with a red clown’s nose and dabbed facepaint over his drawn face.
“It broke my heart, but I could see he loved the escape from being ill – even if he was struggling with it.”
As Wayne’s schedule got busier in December, the determined dad continued to clown – performing up to three shows a day in the run-up to Christmas.
He recalls: “I would do anything to get on the stage and escape reality.”
“Just before Christmas I caught an infection and was hospitalised for three days. After I was discharged from Northampton Hospital at 1pm I did a show at 4pm, relying on painkillers to help me through the act.
“The applause from the audience helped me forget I’d been lying in a hospital bed just hours before.”
“There was also a financial incentive to keep performing. I charge £96 for an hour-long performance or £170 for two hours, which brings in around £6,000 a year.
“Cancelling would mean the client would be forced to book a rival clown and never consider Mr. Mudge again.”
At Christmas, Wayne proposed to Victoria and she accepted.
This January, Wayne started to regain his strength, and even re-introduced his unicycling into his act.
In February, Victoria became the accountant for The Crazy World of Mister Mudge so she could help with the act while watching over her fiance during his performances.
To his relief, last month, Wayne was told his scans were clear and he was in remission.
He says: “I couldn’t believe it.
“I feel so lucky that I had the positive character of Mister Mudge to hide behind when I was in such a dark place.
“But I’m even luckier that my family understood how important it was to me to keep performing, and supported me through it all.
“It was my way of convincing my family, the rest of the world and myself that everything would be ok.”