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WHEN Ross Saxton-Davies collapsed with excruciating tummy pain he was rushed to hospital.
Doctors assumed they were dealing with a case of appendicitis or gall bladder problems, but just weeks later the 27-year-old passed away.
Ross died in January 2017 two months after scans revealed his crippling stomach pains were in fact cancer.
After his death his mum Tracy Davies discovered that two doctors believed a mole removed from her son's back in June 2015 had been a malignant melanoma.
But a third expert had judged the mole wasn't cancerous, and stated only that it should be treated with caution.
It meant Ross, who was living with his partner James Charlick, who he was due to marry, wasn't given any treatment.
Instead, he had check-ups every three months, which showed no apparent cause for concern, even though he began complaining of an ache in his armpit, and developed small cysts on his back.
Eventually in October 2016 he collapsed with stomach pain and was rushed to hospital.
He was then told he had advanced skin cancer that had spread to four parts of his body.
By this time it was too late to treat and he had just a few weeks left with his family.
Tracy says her son was "terrified" of dying, and has set up a charity to support people with terminal illness.
Tracy, a finance officer from Colchester, said: “In June 2015, Ross and James were living in a rented flat, when Ross noticed a mole on his back had changed, becoming darker in colour and irregular-shaped.
"He went to our GP who referred him to a dermatology consultant.
“In hospital, the mole was removed and biopsied.
“However – as we only found out when we obtained his medical notes after he died – although two experts who examined the tissue said the mole was a malignant melanoma, a third expert believed it wasn’t cancerous, stating only that it should be treated with 'caution'.
“He was given no treatment except to be recalled for checks every three months.”
Ross' last hospital appointment was in October 2016, a month before he was rushed into hospital with stomach pains.
Tracy, also mother to Dean and Toni, recalled: "That first day, doctors suspected possible appendicitis or gall bladder problems. They did a scan.
“Next day, Ross phoned from hospital asking: 'Mum, can you come in? The doctors want somebody with me, when they give me my test results.'
“I rushed straight there. When I arrived, a professor came to tell us the scan had revealed advanced melanoma cancer in four different places."
What is melanoma and how to spot the signs
The most common sign is a new mole or a change in an existing mole.
In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour.
The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.
Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.
The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:
- Asymmetrical – melanomas have 2 very different halves and are an irregular shape
- Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
- Colours – melanomas will be a mix of 2 or more colours
- Diameter – most melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter
- Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma
Melanoma is the most deadliest form of skin cancer, with around 16,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK every year, or 44 every day.
There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths every year.
More than one in four skin cancer cases are diagnosed in people under 50, which is unusually early compared with most other types of cancer.
If melanoma is diagnosed early, surgery to remove the cancerous mole is usually successful at treating it.
Tracy said: "Because it had already spread, it couldn’t be removed or cured – his disease was terminal. Ross could only have treatment to give him a little more time.
“None of us had been expecting anything like that, and it was a dreadful, dreadful shock.”
Ross and James came to live with Tracy and her husband Kevin, 47, while waiting to learn more about his treatment. But weeks passed without news.
Tracy said: “During that time, Ross was in an awful state. He was unwell and in physical pain, but more than that, he was in mental pain, because he was terrified of dying.
"He couldn’t be left on his own at all. We all tried to help, but we couldn’t. He didn’t want to talk to us about how he was feeling because he couldn’t bear to upset us."
Meanwhile, Tracy called her son’s consultant, only to discover his appointment with an oncologist had been cancelled by another specialist, for unknown reasons.
She insisted he be given another oncology appointment.
Meanwhile, under a private healthcare plan, Ross began immunotherapy treatment.
But ten days after the first treatment, he complained of feeling breathless.
Tracy said: “I dialled 999. He was taken to hospital, where doctors found his lungs were filling with fluid.
"He was admitted, and after that he was never well enough to come home again.”
Ross had one more immunotherapy treatment in hospital, but it didn’t help.
Tracy said: “My son said, 'Mum, I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to have to bury me.'
"He told me he had nightmares about his funeral where everyone was wearing black. But when I tried to draw him out further, he wouldn’t say any more."
Ross died in hospital on January 25, 2017.
For his funeral, the family asked all 300 mourners to come in bright colours.
And instead of the usual address by a minister, there was an open microphone session where family and friends recalled happy memories of Ross.
During the afternoon wake, a huge rainbow appeared in the sky.
Today, almost four years on, Tracy still has nightmares and flashbacks of seeing Ross in hospital.
She said: "I think of him first thing in the morning, and when I close my eyes at night.
"The grief doesn’t go away, you never get over it. Instead you live your life in two parallel lines. One where you’ve lost your child, and one that’s day-to-day."
Tracy said her son was put on a waiting list for counselling during his terminal illness, which he was still on at the time of his death.
She is launching a charity in memory of Ross called Ending Life's Taboo to provide free counselling to terminally ill people aged 18-40 – with help aimed to be given as soon as they ask for it.
Tracy, a volunteer patient advocate for end-of-life care, said: “Ross had a lot of people around him who loved him, and we did our very best to support him. But it wasn’t enough.
"He couldn’t open up to us fully, because his feelings were too painful to talk about.
“In the last four weeks of his life, he was so frightened, he wouldn’t even look at the doctors who came to talk to him.
"He wouldn’t make any decisions, because he couldn’t. He just wanted everything to go through me.
“Just as he needed professional help for his physical pain, he needed professional help to ease his mental pain.
"But although he was referred for counselling, he was still on a waiting list, by the time he passed away.
“That wasn’t good enough, and I don’t want other young people to suffer as Ross did.
"Mental health is so important. When young people are dying I think we owe it to them to try, if we can, to get them to a place where they can let go of life more peacefully."
Tracy has raised thousands of pounds for the charity Melanoma UK and towards a mole mapping machine at Colchester Hospital to detect skin cancer early, and St Helena Hospice.
Describing her son, Tracy said: "Ross was a big character, funny and flamboyant. From a young age, he loved dressing up. I could tell quite early on that he was gay, and always encouraged him to be whoever he wanted to be.
“At primary school, he felt different to other children and didn’t understand why.
"But a few years after starting secondary school, he came out to family and friends, and after that he just blossomed. He liked to wear high heels and jeans with rainbows switched into them.
“Ross had a great sense of humour and had many friends, both boys and girls. I used to call him my beautiful rainbow child.
"Losing Ross caused so much heartbreak in our family, but thankfully we are a very strong unit.”
For more information on Tracy’s charity, visit the Facebook page.
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