Man dismissed cancer as a cold until he discovered golf ball-sized lump in his neck

Credit: Cancer Research UK

A man from Gwynedd who thought his cancer was a cold until he discovered a golf ball sized lump in his neck has shared his experience.

Paul Evans, from Aberdaron, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2018, and admits he would have "waited for his symptoms to go away on their own" if it wasn't for a TV advert and his family telling him to see a GP.

The 52-year-old is supporting a major awareness campaign after figures revealed the high number of people in Wales who ignored symptoms during the pandemic.

Latest research shows more than 40% of people in Wales who experienced possible cancer symptoms in the first wave of the pandemic did not contact their doctor. 

The Don’t Ignore It campaign, launched by Cancer Research UK, is urging those concerned about their health or who notice an unusual change that isn't going away to see their GP.

Paul was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer Credit: Cancer Research UK

Paul's symptoms started as a persistent cough which he thought was a common cold.  

He said: "A cold had been going around the village, so I thought my cough was as a result of that.

"A few weeks went by and it still hadn't cleared, and that's when I happened to see a TV advert about a persistent cough, which motivated me to see my GP."

The former special constable for North Wales Police was prescribed antibiotics for a suspected infection and was told to make another appointment if his cough hadn't cleared.

Shortly after, his partner Derwyn noticed "a golf ball sized lump" in his neck.

"I also woke up having a coughing fit like I'd never experienced, and I must admit, I was starting to feel a bit concerned," he said.

After seeing his GP again, he was referred to Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, where he was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer.

Paul said: "When I saw a nurse come into the room before the consultant spoke, I knew something wasn't right – and then when I was told it was cancer, it felt like a film.

"I heard talking but it was like everything had stopped and I was outside the room, looking in, it didn’t feel real. 

"It was also really hard telling my mother as my father sadly died of cancer and my uncle also had cancer."

Paul ringing the bell after finishing his treatment

Paul had surgery to remove the cancerous tumour in his tonsils and later had an intensive course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Rhyl.

He lost six stone in weight and had to learn to swallow again following treatment.

Paul is now cancer-free, and thanks the early diagnosis for saving his life.

"It hasn't been easy," he said.

"But I'm so grateful for the treatment I received and that I'm still here."

The research by Cardiff University and Cancer Research UK found the most common reasons for not seeking help were worrying about wasting health professionals' time and putting extra strain on the NHS during the pandemic.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "It's important for people who have noticed any unusual or persistent changes to know their doctor wants to hear from them and can see them safely.

"In most cases it won't be cancer, but it's best to get it checked out because diagnosing cancer at an earlier stage means treatment is more likely to be successful."

'Don't Ignore It' campaign Credit: Cancer Research UK

She added: "During the first wave of the pandemic many people in Wales didn't seek help because they didn't want to add to NHS workload and were worried about wasting their doctor's time, but it's important people don't delay contacting their GP as finding cancer early can make all the difference.

"We have heard reports of people struggling to get through to their GP practice to secure an appointment which can be frustrating, but please do keep trying."

Around 19,300 people every year in Wales are diagnosed with cancer.

Recent figures released by the Welsh Government showed that 20,000 fewer people were urgently referred for a possible cancer diagnosis between March and November 2020.

Cancer Research UK's TV advert is running in Wales throughout June and July and highlights the charity's core message: "Don't ignore it, just contact your GP."

Posters will appear in Cancer Research UK shops across Wales and the campaign will also feature on social media and in Welsh newspapers.

Paul hopes his story will encourage people to seek advice if they have any worrying symptoms.

He said: "I was definitely the type of person that didn't like to make a fuss and I used to think my symptoms would just clear up on their own.  

"Who knows what could have happened if I hadn't seen my GP? I feel extremely fortunate my cancer was caught early.  

"If you're worried at all, just contact your GP – it could save your life."