My story starts in 1989 and the tragic and avoidable early death of a much loved uncle at the age of 39.

My dad’s brother, Pete, had ignored the growing mole on his abdomen and ignored the frequent, ‘nagging’ requests from his wife to go and get checked out. Despite much surgery, skin grafts and chemo the cancer had spread. He died at home and our family was shaken to the ground.

None of us have ever really got over it - does anyone ever? But we have learnt and we have fought back at what is now clearly a familial genetic predisposition to melanoma. Soon after this my dad instilled in me and my brother the importance of checking for moles. From a young age, I had two fairly prominent moles - one on my abdomen and one on my back. We looked, checked, applied sunscreen and covered up. These two moles have never changed size, shape or colour. But others have… As a young adult, I kept vigilant, sat (mostly) in the shade on holidays, applied sunscreen and learnt from TV and other media that early detection and diagnosis of cancers significantly improves your chances of survival.

In August 2017 I realised that what was previously a small brown ‘fleck’ on my chest had become larger, raised and darker at the edges. I knew. And I knew what I had to do. History would not be repeating itself. A pattern of events followed, familiar to those who have been through or are going through skin cancer treatment: GP, dermatology, mole removal, lab testing. The diagnosis was stage 1 malignant melanoma, so for me, treatment was further removal of surrounding skin through a wide local excision (WLE). All went well and no further treatment was needed. The scar healed well it can barely be seen today.

By October 2017 I’d had the surgery as well as a set of full body photographs taken at the hospital, to allow me and my wife to check for changes in my other moles. It amazed me just how many I have - I was told that I have Atypical Mole Syndrome numerous moles larger than the end of a pencil with different colour hues and irregular shapes. Unsurprisingly, people with this are at a very high risk of developing melanoma. On hearing this news, I had a sinking feeling that this was just the beginning of a longer fight. Only at this point did I tell my late uncle’s wife and my cousins of my surgery. We talked it all through, I shared my scar. I seem to remember us not talking much about the past but me thinking and pondering about whether the untimely death of my uncle had saved my own life.

A year later, my dad turned 70 and at his party, I met my dad’s half brother and my cousin. My dad had mentioned before that she had been treated for melanoma, but I was shocked to learn that she’d had 13 moles removed mostly from her legs. I’ve since learnt that she’s had many more removed as well and her fight goes on. The genetic connection started to become clear, a family connection although strangely my dad had very few moles and no issues. But I was then to learn that his own father had died from malignant melanoma as well! I never met any of my grandparents, all had died before I was born.

My dad’s dad was a bricklayer and a prisoner of war in WW2, likely to have been working outside on sunny days. He had a large mole on his back which my dad recalls was shaped like a horse’s head. My dad remembers going to the doctor with his dad and the doctor looking at the mole. He doesn’t know many details other than his dad spending time in hospital and then being told he had died.

For a much needed holiday to Florida in 2018 I bought a rash vest to cover up in the pool. Although the advice to ‘wear sunscreen’ from  Baz Luhrmann’s 1997 song is solid, essential advice, I felt I needed even better protection and to send a strong message to my two boys that covering up in the sun is important. I actually love the sunscreen song. The person who wrote the original words and the inspiration for the song, Mary Schmich also said, “Advice, like youth, is probably wasted on the young.” I’ll return to this later but if you get chance, or have never heard it, check out the song on YouTube or Spotify. It’s a wise, emotional and unusual ‘spoken word’ song.

By 2019, and with regular checks another suspicious mole was identified and removed, this time from the top of my back. Results from the lab were good, all clear and the scar quickly healed. Then, in April 2021 as the world was emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, my wife and I were convinced that a mole on my back had changed shape and colour. The dermatologist agreed and also found another one that also looked malignant. After removal and testing both came back as stage 1 melanoma. This time, they would be removed at the Christie Hospital and a lymph node biopsy carried out at the same time, all under general anaesthetic. This felt a bit different, like the jeopardy had gone up a level. I’m a primary school headteacher and for a number of work and non work- related reasons, I asked for the surgery to take place in early August, which it did.

I spent the rest of August recovering and luckily for me, the biopsy later came back clear. However, a cautionary tale and a bit of advice - don’t start exercising too soon after surgery! I made the mistake of doing this and my scars opened up. I then spent six weeks in September and October going to the hospital to have the wounds packed and dressed. My impatience got the better of me and as well as being long, the scars look quite ugly now. The least of all worries, I know, but again, preventable and another example of the male psyche and inability to properly take advice.

Then it was my dad’s turn. No sooner had I recovered and had the all clear then my dad told me that he had a malignant mole on his shoulder that would go on to need a WLE and lymph node biopsy. I wasn’t surprised but it still came as a shock. But as with me, the early detection and removal at stage 1 meant things were OK.

As I write this in September 2022, the story is almost complete. For now. I don’t feel that the fight is over. Like my cousin, I think there will be more to be removed. As well as this, I feel I have to fight the fight for others. We have just returned from a fantastic family holiday abroad where my wife and I had to continually nag, remind and insist that our children cover up, apply and reapply sunscreen. It felt like a battle at times. My soon to be 17 years old son is vulnerable. He has two moles, one quite large on his leg and one on his neck. He’s had them checked and they look OK for now, but will need monitoring. My 13 years old son has as many moles as I have, if not more… I’m 50 years old in October 2022 and it feels like the right time to share this story, raise awareness and hopefully some much needed funds to support those fighting this type of cancer and those who are supporting people in dealing with it.

My story so far is a happy one. Early detection due to my family’s raised awareness has given us good outcomes. Landmark birthdays get you special attention so I’m using this to my advantage, with a 50th birthday pledge:

  1. Raise at least £1000 for Melanoma UK. I’m requesting no birthday presents but a donation to my fundraising page. I have a few ideas for other special fundraising events as well and will be asking friends, family and work colleagues and families for their support.
  2. Raise awareness of skin cancer: signs, symptoms and the importance of early detection and treatment.
  3. Raise a glass to those doing great work to prevent cancer, treat cancer and support people dealing with cancer.

Thank you for reading this. I’m happy to talk and answer any questions if anyone wants more information, and if you would like to help me to achieve my 50th birthday pledge, my page can be found here: