Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

A mother's inspirational skin cancer battle

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

The Pratt family
Katie created memories for her children

Doctors never discovered the mole that led to 37-year-old Katie Pratt's skin cancer.

The first the mother-of-three knew about it was when she had developed malignant lumps in her neck.

Friends and family were inspired by her courageous fight with the disease, which she chronicled in a regular blog.

But two years later Katie was dead.

Sun risk

Her husband Giles, a GP, explained how the family are hoping her death will raise awareness of malignant melanoma, which kills about 2,000 people in the UK each year.

"As a teenager and youngster sunbathing did feature in her life, she did like the sun," he said.

They think mummy is now an angel and watching them every day
Giles Pratt

"And there was a time when her parents went away on holiday and she was 16 or 17 when she hired a sunlamp.

"I think in the 70s and early 80s people were not so aware, but I think things have improved. Sun creams have certainly improved, but there is more that can be done.

Mole aware

"I am a GP and have a mole scanner, which is something I was always interested in.

"And I looked for a primary mole when Katie's diagnosis was confirmed.

Katie and Evie Pratt
Katie with youngest daughter Evie

"I looked through her scalp and her hair but there was nothing.

"The hospital checked too and even looked behind her eyes, as you can get a melanoma there. But they said it was not unusual for the mole to regress."

Giles said Katie, a pharmacist, decided to set up her blog to keep everyone in the loop and said that although her prognosis was poor that she still hoped to be "one of the lucky ones".

"You live with the hope that you are going to be one of the lucky ones and she embraced that and lived her life to the full," he said.

"She stayed positive to the bitter end and that was so inspiring - she was not bitter, angry and self-pitying."

But after 15 months they noticed a recurrence in her lung.

Mole or mark changing shape or colour
Mole or mark becoming ragged in outline
Raised bump with crusty ulcer or small lesion which does not heal

"She was still entirely well and continued to run and go to the gym," he said.

"But then things started progressing more rapidly and they found a tumour pressing on her spine, which meant she could not walk properly."

Doctors tried radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but by mid-January she was unable to walk and started to deteriorate. Katie died on Monday 22 February.

Leaving memories

In her blog, Katie explained that one of the hardest things had been how to prepare their children, Sophie, aged seven; Sam, aged six; and 23-month-old Evie, for her death.

So it is time to write to the children and talk about dying with them and I really wish that none of them have to go through all this. It's funny - it makes the pain worse just thinking about it - but then that's knowing that the tumours will just keep on growing - unless something miraculous happens!

"We talked from the outset about cancer and the older two knew that cancer could kill people," said Giles.

"Through the latter part of her illness we said she could die and what happens to people when they die.

"They think mummy is now an angel and watching them every day."

Katie, from Hertfordshire, also prepared special memories for the children including letters detailing her memories of their life, her handprint on an inscribed plate, fingerprints on a silver nugget and memory boxes, as well as sketching each of them.

Katie and Giles Pratt
The primary mole site was never found

Katie's brother Tom Nicholls said he hoped the telling of his sister's story would help others.

"I've printed the blog for family and we are asking friends and readers of the blog if they'd be interested in a copy," he said.

"I would, of course, like to publish the blog as a book because, although it is an emotional read, I believe it can be inspirational to many people (sick or healthy)."

Dr Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK's health information manager, said avoiding sun damage and increased vigilance is vital in the fight against the disease.

And still I find this all so surreal. I can't believe it's happening to me/us. I can't imagine being dead (but then you're not supposed to imagine that - are you!).

So I tell myself while my body switches off (yet my mind doesn't), that my body is just rebooting

"More than 10,400 people are diagnosed with the most dangerous form of skin cancer - malignant melanoma - each year in the UK and around 2,000 people die from the disease.

"But finding skin cancer early saves lives.

"If you notice a change in the size, shape or colour of a mole or normal patch of skin, see your doctor.

"Crucially, most cases of melanoma could be prevented by taking care not to burn and enjoying the sun safely."

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