A dad has terminal cancer after doctors refused to remove a suspicious mole for nine months – as it emerged people in his part of Britain are twice as likely to get the disease.
Jordi Akhurst, 30, sought medical help after spotting the worrying blemish on his back – but was told there was nothing wrong.
Over the next six months it started to bleed and crack but once more a dermatologist told him it was benign.
His GP finally agreed to remove the mole because he was so worried about it and sent off samples for routine analysis.
Within days Jordi’s worst fears were confirmed when hospital staff broke the news that he had skin cancer.
Jordi, of Plymouth, Devon, underwent three operations in 2007 to remove the infected tissue which had spread across his back.
He hoped he had beaten the disease but in January last year Jordi noticed some new lumps and three tested positive for melanoma.
The cancer has since spread to his brain, heart, adrenal glands and lymph nodes, leaving his body riddled with more than 50 tumours.
Jordi’s plight emerged after shock figures revealed that the number of new cases of skin cancer each year in Devon and Cornwall is double the UK average.
One in four diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious form of the disease, do not survive beyond five years.
Experts say early diagnosis is the key to survival but Jordi, dad to a young son, Luca, five, says experts repeatedly botched his diagnosis.
On his first visit to his GP he says he was told they no longer remove moles and was referred to a dermatologist at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital.
Jordi, a maths teacher who is married to fianc?e Ivanna Bedani, 36, said: “I started going to the doctor about a mole on my back in 2007.
“My GP said they don’t remove them anymore and I was referred to a dermatologist at Derriford Hospital who said there was nothing wrong with it and he would leave it and see how it went.
“Three months later all the original problems were still there. It kept bleeding and it was bleeding so often it wouldn’t be long before there was a blood mark on my shirt and I would have to change.
“This was happening every day. I wasn’t too worried – it was more annoying than anything else.
“Six months later the dermatologist said it seemed unchanged and it was all fine”.
Jordi wasn’t happy with the diagnosis and went back to his doctor, who once more referred him to a dermatologist.
He said: “I went back to my GP after nine months because I wasn’t happy and I wanted it taking off.
“She referred me to the dermatologist again and he was quite insistent he wasn’t going to remove it.
“It was black, raised, cracked and bleeding – you don’t have to be an expert in skin cancer to know something wasn’t right.
“I wasn’t panicked at all. I just thought it was a case of getting rid of it.
“My GP ended up removing it as a favour. They’re obliged to send it away for tests and a week later I had a phone call from the hospital in a complete state of panic.
“I went in and was put in a room with a few people who were extremely apologetic, including a specialist cancer nurse and the dermatologist, who I haven’t seen since.
“At the time my son was being born so I just wanted anything that needed to happen to happen so I could get on with my life.”
Nine months after his original visit to the GP, Jordi was finally admitted for surgery on his back.
He said: “They did the first operation and they weren’t happy with the lesions and felt there was more they could have chopped out.
“I had a second and then third operation. They kept having to open up the scar and search for more and more.
“I went from being told there was nothing wrong to having this giant scar.
“In the following months I went for check ups but I felt they were quite brief and a bit useless.”
After the cancer returned last January Jordi had a scan to see how far it had spread.
By the time the results came back on April 15 last year it had reached his adrenal glands, which are at the top of the kidneys and his lymph nodes.
He was diagnosed as being Stage 4 – which is terminal.
Jordi was given pneumotherapy, which he said was hailed as a ‘wonder drug’, but didn’t well respond to the treatment.
The Bristol University classics graduate said: “I was going up to the hospital every three weeks for four months and being put on a drip.
“Even though it didn’t work I felt well enough to carry on with my job and my day to day life.
“They left me for two to three months to see how I was and after a scan they found the cancer had spread to my heart.
“Doctors told me it was untreatable and any treatment would leave a hole in my heart. They said the tumour was new and it had grown quickly.
“I had a specialist heart scan and it found the tumour wasn’t new – it had been missed on previous scans and was actually treatable.
“Despite all this I was still well, but I became ill in February this year. I was behaving quite strangely and couldn’t do simple things like use my phone.
“I found out I had 10 new brain tumours so the disease had progressed quite severely.”
Jordi is now taking Zelboraf – the last resort in terms of licensed drugs he is able to take.
If he doesn’t respond after six months he will be looking to take part in clinical trials to have access to unlicensed treatments.
He added: “It is very toxic and doesn’t make you feel great.
“After this six months there is no more treatment. The best case scenario is that by the time I stop responding I would be put on a drug trial.
“I would be very happy to take part in trials. They said I have between one and five years when I was diagnosed in April last year.
“I’m 30 and have a terminal illness – it’s all very well if you’re 70 but I was hoping for another 40 years of life ahead of me.
“I didn’t realise it would spread to where it has or so aggressively and quickly.
“I was quite resentful to be honest – there’s a slight injustice in it. I know people are dying of cancer all over the world but when you’re 30 you think you have lots of time left.
“There’s nothing I did to contribute to it. I didn’t sun worship or get burnt.
“I want people to know that skin cancer exists. I had a mole and I had it removed and I really thought that was as far as it would go.
“I don’t want to be an anti-sun bed person and they’re not part of my story but if people could think twice about using them and use sun cream – whether it’s factor five or 50 – just think about it and use some protection.”
There are around 10,000 new cases of skin cancer every year and it’s the fastest growing cancer for 18 to 30 year olds.
According to a new campaign from Public Health England (PHE) you are twice as likely to fall prey to the disease if you live in Devon and Cornwall.
PHE centre director, Professor Debra Lapthorne, said: “Statistics show that those living in the Devon and Cornwall area are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer compared to the rest of England.
“There could be any number of reasons for this but it’s likely to be due to a high number of outdoor jobs and leisure pursuits as well as an older population.
“We are committed to raising awareness of the key signs of the disease, to encourage earlier diagnosis, when treatment is more likely to be successful.
“The campaign message is clear, if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your skin, you should visit your doctor.”
For more information on the signs of skin cancer, visit www.nhs.uk/skincancer