'From skiing to struggling up the stairs' - North Wales man aims to raise kidney cancer awareness

  • ITV Wales journalist Will Hardy reports

A man from North Wales is trying to raise awareness of the cancer which left him unable to work or take part in the sports he loves.

Mark Southee, 61, from Gwynedd, was diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer last year following a routine medical check.

Despite being the seventh most common cancer in the UK - with more than 13,000 cases each year - a quarter of people with the disease are misdiagnosed with other ailments such as kidney stones.

As with all cancers, an earlier diagnosis increases the chances of it being successfully treated.

Mark only received the news in June 2023 after multiple appointments and tests, after which he was put on the immunotherapy he is still undergoing.

Talking about the moment he realised something was wrong, he explained he was his "usual fit self" having been skiing earlier in the year, but "suddenly woke up feeling like someone had hit me across the kidneys with a baseball bat."

He initially went to his GP, who said they would monitor his kidney function. After his symptoms worsened, he was sent to see a specialist at Ysbyty Gwynedd.

Mark, who worked in IT before his condition forced him to give up working, said: "From then on [after seeing a specialist] it all sped up rather quickly."

Tests confirmed he had "a mass" on his kidney.

It has been a tough process since, with many ups and downs.

Talking to ITV Wales, Mark explained: "You can’t say ‘Oh, I’m feeling good today, that’s it, I’m feeling better.’ You can’t do that. You literally have to take everyday as it comes.

"There are some days where I feel quite active so I make the mistake of doing things around the house and stuff, and the next day I pay for it and I’m very sluggish.”

That would be hard for anyone to deal with, but particularly for someone who used to be so active.

Talking about his previously active lifestyle, Mark said: “I’ve gone from running ultra marathons, skiing, mountaineering, sailing, kickboxing to struggling to get up the stairs."

Mark's struggle to get a diagnosis is not uncommon, with a report by the charity Kidney Cancer UK revealing stark findings.

As well as struggles with misdiagnosis, the report found more than a third of kidney cancer patients across the UK are "unhappy" with how they were told the news, while more than half wanted more information.

More than a quarter of patients who underwent surgery for the disease felt "abandoned" afterwards.

Kidney Cancer UK want to change that stat. They offer a range of services to people with the condition, as well as researching the causes of it and the best treatments.

The charity's chief executive officer, Malcolm Packer, said they want the NHS to flag their services to patients when they are diagnosed.

Talking about the issues around misdiagnosis, he said: "The earlier you get a diagnosis as a stage one, there’s a much better chance of everything being sorted out and you making a full recovery at the end.”

He urged people to "be persistent with your doctor" if you have persistent symptoms they are worried about.

The reason diagnosing kidney cancer can be so difficult is the symptoms of are often "vague," according to the charity, meaning issues can initially be put down to "problems like low back pain, chronic urine infections, chronic fatigue or just being stressed or run down."

Some of the most common, however, are blood in your urine, pain in your side or lower back pain.

The Welsh Government say improving cancer services is a priority and they have launched a national programme for improving waiting times that has a specific focus on urological cancers, such as kidney cancer.