BANORA Point swimmer Jim Crawford (pictured) owes his survival from cancer to fitness.

An enthusiastic competitor in masters events since his days working at a bauxite mine in north Queensland, Mr Crawford was given six weeks to live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Ten years later, he's beaten the disease and still swims regularly.

Views on health and levels of healthy activity for over-45s such as Mr Crawford are the focus of a ground-breaking survey launched today by NSW Health, with support from the National Heart Foundation and the NSW Cancer Council.

The survey plans to interview 250,000 people - 10 per cent of the state's population aged over 45 - in order to develop better health services.

Mr Crawford said yesterday the only chance he had to beat his cancer was to undergo a "wipple" operation.

"It was a rarely performed operation developed in America," he said.

Normally, the success rate was less than one per cent.

"But my doctor said that with my level of fitness I had a 50-50 chance.

"He wouldn't have attempted it if I wasn't in good condition."

The operation proved a remarkable success and Mr Crawford has since eased himself back into the upper echelons of masters swimming competitors in the 65-70 age group.

He said he got involved in swimming while working on tug boats at Weipa.

"We worked eight weeks on, eight weeks off. We didn't have a pool - just a lake that had been dredged out.

"But we still managed to hold triathlons."

While off duty Mr Crawford came to Tweed Heads and got involved in masters swimming. He was one of the top 10 in his age group. It was then, at the age of 54, that cancer struck.

Yesterday, Mr Crawford was at the Club Banora pool doing a 2km swim, which he does several times a week.

"If I hadn't been fit there is no doubt I would not have survived my brush with cancer."

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