One farming family from Salwarpe, Worcestershire, is keen to promote the importance of sun protection following the death of their father Michael Davies earlier this year.
Helped by his wife Felicity and daughter Gillian Kerton, Michael was the brains behind Churchfields Farmhouse Ice Cream, a successful diversification project, which put their dairy farm’s milk to good use and was a finalist in the British Farming Awards.
Gillian says: “The expansion was led by him. He was always the driving force behind everything.”
When Michael began to feel unwell in 2017, his family put it down to his age catching up with him.
“He started to feel really tired and we all said, ‘Well, you’re 74, of course you’re tired.’ But he knew something wasn’t right,” she adds.
“He had a mole removed from his back a few years previously and had been on three-monthly check-ups. But as he was doing so well, these had been changed to once every six months.”
However, all was not as well as it appeared. Tests revealed Michael had melanoma, a form of skin cancer which can spread to organs in the body.
“In Dad’s case, a single cell took itself off, floated around for a long time and then ended up on his liver,” explains Gillian.
Last summer he was admitted to hospital and given targeted therapy to tackle the disease. Gillian’s sister Fiona Roberts, who lives in New Zealand, says: “Dad was given a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib, which worked wonders, but we were always warned the effects would be short-lived; anywhere between six to 12 months.
“After about seven months these stopped working for Dad, because they could not protect the brain.”
In February this year Michael’s health started to deteriorate.
Fiona says: “Dad had a seizure because of the disease progression in his brain. He was then taken off the targeted therapy and we prepared for immunotherapy. Unfortunately, after just one treatment, it became clear it was too late.
“Dad died aged 74 and, although everyone says this is a good age, anyone who knew him would have described him as a young 74-year-old. He was always having ideas and was so full of life. He had so much more to give.”
Gillian says despite the unfairness of his death, she was grateful he wasn’t in any pain and that it happened quickly.
“We really only lost hope in the last three/four days, but I don’t think he ever gave up, which would have been very important to him,” she says.
A collection at Michael’s funeral raised nearly £3,000 for charity and £1,800 was given to Melanoma UK, £600 to the family’s church and £535 to St Richard’s Hospice.
Making a difference
Looking to the future, Gillian is hoping to raise awareness of skin cancer and melanoma in the hope other families do not have to lose a beloved family member to the disease.
“My dad was blonde and fair. I don’t ever remember him using suncream when we were younger, even through all the summers of harvesting. However, I don’t really ever remember him getting massively sunburnt either,” Gillian says.
Using suncream and remembering to reapply it is essential, although Gillian admits it is easy to forget.
DR Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesman, recommends checking your skin for changes on a monthly basis so unusual growths or changes can be detected early.
He says: “The acronym ABCDE can be helpful. If a mole shows any of these features, it warrants review by a dermatologist to exclude melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.”
A Asymmetry: One half is different to the other
B Border: Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined edge
C Colour: Uneven colour or variable colours in a mole
D Diameter: The mole is bigger than 6mm in size
E Evolving: The mole’s size, shape or colour is changing
Other signs to look out for include new moles, a mole which looks different, or any skin lesion which bleeds or fails to heal.
“The most important thing is to seek medical advice early,” Dr Mahto urges.
“Any concerns should prompt a visit to a dermatologist who will perform a full skin examination and may go on to either excise a mole or take a sample or biopsy of any unusual growths or patches on the skin.”