Personal Column: At 32 I didn't expect to develop cancer

Every year 1,000 men in Britain die from melanoma. Luckily for Simon Rushworth he noticed a suspicious mole early
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The Independent Online

The scary thing is, I only went to my GP because I had a rash on my lower leg. I thought it was a result of not washing my shin-pads, which is rather embarrassing. But it wasn't until I examined the rash that I noticed the little mole.

It was at the back of my calf, and I think it had always been there but it looked a bit different from my other moles. I knew that I was supposed to be keeping an eye on these things, but I didn't know what I was supposed to look for. It wasn't bleeding or itching but it was dark in the middle and irregular around the edges.

I thought it was insignificant, and I wasn't sure whether to bother the doctor. It seemed a bit of a waste of time. But I went to see her to get some cream for my rash and then, as an afterthought, asked her to have a look at the mole. In retrospect, that was ridiculous. A rash couldn't have killed me, but this mole could.

I was so glad I mentioned it. My GP referred me immediately to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. She said it was probably nothing to worry about, but within a couple of days I had a letter of referral and I was at the clinic the next week. They removed the whole mole and an area of skin about the size of a ten pence piece, and told me to come back in two weeks to have the stitches taken out. I hobbled back to work but when the local anaesthetic wore off it felt as if I had been stabbed in the leg.

At this point I told my wife but nobody else. I played football and basketball that weekend and managed to disguise that I was limping around. I specifically didn't tell my brother because our mum died of cancer, and so it is something that has been hanging over us for 15 or 16 years.

I still don't know why I got it. I have never been on a sunbed and I'm not exactly David Dickinson. Ever since I can remember I have used sun cream, but I think when I was growing up it just wasn't available. I used to go out with my friends in the sun for six or seven hours a day, wearing just shorts, and by the end of the summer I had what people would call a "healthy tan". I suppose it manifested itself 20 years later.

When I went to have my stitches taken out the doctor told me it was cancer. I felt the blood drain out of me. But when he said it wasn't in the surrounding skin I was relieved. He explained that it was melanoma and that I was very lucky we had caught it early. But because I don't know how long it had been like that, I don't know whether I could have left it another five years and it still would have been "early", or if another five months would have been too late. At least it hadn't gone into my bloodstream, which is when it is really dangerous. Just to be on the safe side, though, he wanted to take out a wider margin of skin.

The operation was two weeks later - only four weeks after I first saw my GP. It took an hour and a quarter, lying on my front with a local anaesthetic. It was like something out of ER, with a doctor and two nurses all masked up and a great big operating table. I was incredibly nervous.

In three months' time I have to go back and have the six-inch scar checked, but after that it's simply a matter of checking myself and, if I find anything I'm concerned about, going through the same process. I've been given the all-clear but once you have had skin cancer you are more likely to get it again.

To be honest, the hardest thing was worrying about my family. They've been great, very supportive. A lot of people were shocked. When you are only 32, people don't expect you to get cancer. And I have always been the one telling everyone to cover up and wear sunscreen.

I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the sun, and I don't want my daughter to grow up paranoid, but it's hard not to be a bit scared of the sun now. I suppose I would just like people to know how to be sensible. If people are worrying about going to see their GP about a mole they should really try to get a grip and think about what could happen. OK, you might think it isn't very manly to ask a doctor to look at a mole. But it isn't very manly to die of skin cancer, either.

Simon Rushworth was speaking to Katy Guest

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