A RIPON man whose incurable blood cancer was missed for more than six months despite having golf ball-sized lumps on his head wants to ensure others don’t have to endure what he did.

When large growths began appearing on his head in August 2014, Carl Tonks, 49, saw four separate GPs but each assured him they were just benign cysts.

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After months of visiting his GP surgery, he eventually changed practices and booked a private appointment with a cosmetic surgeon who confirmed his worst fears.

Far from benign cysts, the five lumps were in fact plasmacytomas, a rare complication of the blood cancer myeloma.

Carl said: “Within 45 seconds the consultant realised they weren’t cysts and that there was something seriously wrong.

“He was so concerned he did a blood test immediately.

"I was diagnosed with myeloma six days later.”

The Northern Echo: The lump at the back of Carl Tonks's head was 'the size of a cricket ball'The lump at the back of Carl Tonks's head was 'the size of a cricket ball'

Carl is now backing blood cancer charity Myeloma UK’s campaign to raise awareness of the hidden impact of delayed diagnosis on patients’ quality of life.

He is also supporting the charity’s calls to make sure quality of life is included as a key part of the government’s ten-year cancer strategy.

Carl explained that until he saw the specialist he had never had a blood test or any major physical examinations to investigate the lumps.

Yet a simple blood test would have shown that something was amiss.

He said: “I saw four GPs and not one of them picked up on anything or questioned it.

"Of all the things on this whole journey, that’s the thing that got to me; that there was no blood test."

Carl also began suffering from a stiff neck and said: "By December one of them (lumps) was the size of a cricket ball and two were the size of golf balls.

"But they kept saying they were cysts and that the neck issue was probably age.”

Carl suffered nausea and was in such pain he ended up bedridden for days.

The Northern Echo: Carl Tonks responded well to treatment but the delayed diagnosis has lasting health implicationsCarl Tonks responded well to treatment but the delayed diagnosis has lasting health implications

His mental health suffered and his illness was affecting his work as head groundsman at Ripon Racecourse.

And by the time he was diagnosed, Carl had suffered severe kidney damage and even now the organs are only 30 per cent effective.

Scans also revealed further growths on his spine, shoulder blades and sternum.

Despite being the third most common type of blood cancer -24,000 people in the UK are diagnosed myeloma each year - it is especially difficult to diagnose as symptoms are often linked to general ageing or minor conditions.

According to Myeloma UK’s landmark report, ‘A Life Worth Living’, published today (April 7), Carl’s is not an isolated case.

Based on feedback from 1,344 patients and carers, the report found that 50 per cent of patients wait over five months for a diagnosis.

Around a third visit their GP at least three times before being diagnosed and 60 per cent of patients with a delayed diagnosis reported reduced mobility.

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Sadly, just under half of patients, 49 per cent, were left with avoidable life-altering complications after their cancer was repeatedly missed.

Shelagh McKinlay of Myeloma UK said: “We cannot allow the lives of patients like Carl to be diminished by avoidable delays in diagnosis”

She added: “Delayed diagnosis is well-known to increase the likelihood that patients will experience two or more serious complications.

"Yet, there are still no specific diagnosis targets to make sure the disease is caught and treated in time and to tackle unacceptable and truly harmful delays.

Following rounds of chemotherapy, Carl received a stem cell transplant in November 2015 and has been in remission ever since.

While he has responded well to treatment, his life will never be the same again and Carl is still grappling with the fact that his condition could and should have been picked up much sooner.


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