Paul Duhig, aged 67 years, feared that his chances of survival were slim after being diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma) in 2015 and exhausting the treatment options available on the NHS.
Thanks to oncologists at Royal Surrey County Hospital he was able to receive a brand new drug as part of a clinical trial that has put his cancer in retreat.
Now Paul is working with hospital staff to establish Mela-No-More, a support group for survivors of skin cancer.
“It’s a very strange feeling to sort out your affairs with the end of life in sight, and then be faced with life,” said Paul, who is a grandfather from Billingshurst.
“Cancer takes away your life and it’s hard to get it back into perspective.
“It is difficult and having the staff from Royal Surrey there to help at each stage made the difference.”
The support group will provide an opportunity for patients, like Paul, to meet and share their experiences.
Royal Surrey has secured a grant, which will help fund the group, and patients will be referred to it by the Clinical Nurse Specialists.
Paul first went to his doctor after a mole on his knee became sore and started bleeding and in late 2015 was diagnosed with melanoma.
During 2016 and 2017 he underwent three operations to remove the cancer from his knee and the groin area where it had spread.
After the third operation was unsuccessful Paul feared the worst, but his oncologists found he was suitable to take part in a new clinical trial.
The immunotherapy trial involved a combination of new drugs which attacked the cancer and boosted the immune system. It took time for the new treatment to start working, but in November 2017 Paul was told that it had been successful and his cancer was in remission.
Paul was full of praise for the team of professionals who aided his recovery. “The support which Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialists Kate Upshon and Delia Sworm provided to both me and my wife Diana was so important,” he said.
“They kept me going and I see the Melanoma Support Group as a chance to give something back.”
Dr Tim Crook, Consultant Oncologist, who is responsible for Paul’s care said:
“We work as a team. Together we support patients and their families at a very difficult time living with and beyond cancer. We’re excited to be able to offer new and cutting edge cancer treatments to patients such as Paul.”
Delia Sworm, Clinical Nurse Specialist, is also vice chair of the British Association of Skin Cancer Specialist Nurses (BASCSN) and working at a national level, recently contributing to NICE guidelines for new adjuvant treatments for melanoma.
Paul has taken a leading role in setting up the support group with Delia, Kate, Kelly Smith (Support Worker) and Miss Clayton, (Oncoplastic Surgeon).
Mr Farrokh Pakzad, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast and Skin Cancer Surgeon said, “The Melanoma Support Group will be an important addition to the holistic system of care and support we give our patients.
“Patients need somewhere to meet and talk.
“I am pleased that, working with Paul and the members of The Melanoma Support Project Group we will be able to launch the new group.”
Skin cancer, including malignant melanoma, is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with 13,500 new cases each year. Over recent years, skin cancer has become more common in the UK. A quarter of those diagnosed are under the age of 50 and around 2,000 people die from the disease.
Seek medical advice as soon as possible if you notice changes in a mole, freckle or patch of skin, particularly if the changes happen over a few weeks or months.