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My story begins on the beaches of North Cornwall and The Isle of Wight in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a young boy and then teenager I loved the sun and would do anything to be in its glare. As holidays and travel became more exotic in the 70’s onwards, this extended to travels throughout Europe, the States, and East Africa. Sun cream was applied when available, but not always. I also played a lot of sport in my teens and twenties and particularly liked cycling, so the skin on my head and limbs in particular were exposed to the sun a lot. No helmets in those days!

I have had a successful career managing health care companies and organisations so I am used to dealing with clinical thinking, which has helped me in my tussle with melanoma. I was first diagnosed in 2015 with a melanoma on my right knee, where a long established mole started to bleed. During the next year or so, my surgeon took several lumps out of me, including an amazing skin graft on my right knee. However after the third attempt he referred me to Dr Ajaz and his team in Oncology.  By this time I had secondaries in my lungs and groin.

By the time I started immunotherapy in July 2017 I was pretty unwell and lost a lot of weight quickly. As a precaution, my clinical team asked me to make sure my affairs were in order so I could concentrate on the treatment, and that the outlook could be as little as months if things did not go well. This was quite a shock in its starkness, but not totally unexpected if I am honest. It is the impact on the family which was the biggest concern, but we all held together well. Our first granddaughter played a big part in keeping me determined to live!

However, by October I was being told I was “a lucky boy” as my immune system had been switched on by the treatment and in a very short time my prognosis was extended greatly. I have continued to have treatment into 2018, and despite a number of setbacks such as a couple of falls, I am now feeling a lot better and have regained almost all my former weight. I am hoping not to regain the last bit and stay slim!

The care and dedication of the medical, nursing, imaging, radiotherapy, pathology, dietetic, physiotherapy, psychology staff, and the many other medical, technical, and administrative support staff at St Luke’s Cancer Centre, part of The Royal Surrey Hospital Foundation Trust) Guildford,  Horsham Hospital, and St Catherine’s Hospice, Crawley has been first class. My GP practice has been excellent.

Without all these skilled people and the advice and encouragement given, I would not be here as I write this in July 2018. My family have also been helped with offers of support or advice. I think in life the “back room” staff do not get mention, but I owe a great deal of gratitude to the scientists who have developed and tested the drugs, and to the pathology and production staff who produce the medications. The Fountain Centre has been a place of refuge some days and is always a welcoming place to go to on those long treatment days.

A big Thank You to everyone.

If I was asked to give any advice to someone facing cancer, it would be not to give up on yourself. I have had some really bad days in the last 2 years. I know I have been difficult at times and I owe a lot to my family. With self-belief you can help beat cancer by doing what you are told to do by the clinicians and working on your overall fitness and mental wellbeing. It makes it so much easier to fight the disease and adjust to the new set of conditions affecting your life.

There is still a huge amount to do in terms of research and development in melanoma and other cancers for the new treatments that are required, and it will take a long time, but everything that you can do to help this process by supporting charities and organisations working in cancer research and care will be appreciated by current and future Cancer patients.

My recovery is truly amazing and I am grateful to be alive!

Paul Duhig

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