As new figures show alarming increase in skin cancer, a personal view of how ‘a stroke of fortune probably saved my life’

16:15 21 April 2014

Archant © 2006

Until three years ago skin cancer was something I had always associated with people who sunbathe – so it never really bothered me. On holiday I’ve always preferred the bar to the beach and sangria to sunshine.

But a visit to the GP on another matter, and her decision to give me a quick once over “now you’re here”, was a stroke of fortune that probably saved my life. She took one look at a mole on my back which, in her words: “I don’t like the look of,” and I was given an early appointment at West Suffolk Hospital for its removal.

It was sent away for analysis and a fortnight later, on my return from holiday, I was told it was malignant and an operation was needed.

That, too, happened at seemingly breakneck speed and within a matter of days I was booked for an operation to remove a chunk from my back – after which I was patched up, sent home and assured it had probably been caught in time and unlikely to re-occur.

But what impressed me then, and still impresses me two years later, is the meticulous after-care provided by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The discovery of a small lump in my neck meant another hospital trip for an MRI scan but, happily, a false alarm.

The random nature of melanoma is chilling. Disfigurement (hence why a plastic surgeon heads up the department) is common and the disease is no respecter of the body.

It can strike anywhere and does so – often spreading at an alarming rate.

That drug treatment is affording a better outcome for many is a comfort, but the power of a tiny mole to kill remains generally unappreciated.

What I still find baffling, though, is people’s irrational behaviour when faced with irrefutable evidence that a discoloured or weeping mole can kill: I know someone whose partner has been trying to persuade him for sometime to have it checked but he stubbornly refuses.

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