A woman who is already battling a terminal illness has discovered she also has skin cancer.
Louise Street, from Istead Rise, has motor neurone disease (MND), but has amazed health professionals who gave her a two-and-a-half year prognosis five years ago.
The 42-year-old is awaiting the outcome of skin cancer tests but an early diagnosis means she has the best possible chance of beating it.
She is now urging others to get themselves screened.
Louise was one of the first people in Gravesend to try out a new mole-screening service in the town centre, and the first to have the news she tested positive for cancer.
In May, the Regent Pharmacy in Windmill Street started offering the private screening at a fraction of the cost of the closest London clinics. Louise was their second customer.
Working in her shop There’s No Place Like Home, which is two doors down from the pharmacy, she heard about the scan.
She said: “I had a weird patch of skin on my back which was irritating, itchy and flaking. My MND nurse told me to get it checked, but I don’t like going to the doctors, I’m one of these people who puts things like that off.”
However, the married mum of four was persuaded to go and despite the skin problem not being a mole, they were still able to scan it. She said: “The screening was really easy, it was done in minutes, and it doesn’t hurt.
“I didn’t expect to hear for a while, but the following Monday I got the call, and I knew straight away. I was just in a state of shock.”
Louise, who also has two grandchildren, got a quick appointment with her GP and was then referred to a specialist, who she is now waiting to see.
She said: “For a £35 test, it’s worth just knowing either way.”
Sunil Kochhar, a 42-year-old father from Longfield who owns Regent Pharmacy, said: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get an appointment with your GP and people will have the intention to book in, but then can’t get an appointment for weeks so leave it.
“This screening wipes out a lot of the paperwork for GPs so it is much easier to get an appointment, as they can see straight away the urgency.
“Getting checked here, you don’t need an appointment, you can just walk straight in. It gives people the chance to take their own health in their hands, and get some peace of mind quickly and easily.”
The £35 fee covers checking two moles; others can be scanned for an extra £15 per mole.
It is subsidised by Screen Cancer, whose specialists check the screenings and send out the results within two weeks. Louise was called in just four days because of the immediate concerns.
The chances of surviving skin cancer are very high, at around 90%.
Screening is fast and non-invasive, and can show a positive result even for people who do not think they abuse their skin with the sun.
A member of staff speaks to customers about their health habits, to establish their risk.
The scanner is placed over the mole, and an image taken, which is forwarded onto experts at Screen Cancer.
The results get sent in a letter, or if it needs more discussion, the person is called. If it’s bad news, their GP is sent all the paperwork, so an urgent appointment can be made.
Pharmacy owner Sunil Kochhar said: “The instances of skin cancer are increasing, but despite all the warnings people still don’t wear sun cream, or they buy cheap bottles with low factors which do not offer enough protection. People need educating, and talking to individually.
Some don’t realise that even medication they are taking can make them more photosensitive – sensitive to sunlight.” Louise added: “I did use in my earlier years, but not a lot. I’ve never been religious about putting sun cream on, because I’ve never really burnt.”
She went on a pre-booked holiday with a friend shortly after the news of her cancer, but lathered up on the cream.
Louise said: “I was amazed that I still tanned, I always thought it would have stopped that. I go on holiday abroad as much as I can – it helps my muscles, but also helps me as a person. The thought that having this cancer could ruin that for me, it seems so unfair.”
In 2014, Louise took part in a Channel 4 documentary series, My Last Summer, on terminal illness.
She and four other people were brought together in a residential manor house to support each other, and discuss their hopes, fears and legacies.
Some of them had cancer and Louise saw first hand the devastating affect the treatment can have.
She said: “I need to see what the doctors say about me, but if it’s a case of radio or chemotherapy, I’m not going to have it.
“I saw good friends die because of the effect of that. I couldn’t go through it, not on top of my MND as well.
“I stopped most of my medication for that as well. I was on more than 10 tablets a day, at the start, and half of them were for things that had nothing to do with MND. I didn’t know why I was taking them, and I’ve been better off without them.
“I take what I feel I need and no more – it’s worked so far. The doctors have been amazed. I do a lot of holistic therapy as well, lots of meditation.”
She is already finding her Gravesend shop increasingly difficult to run, and last week had her first wheelchair fitting.
“That to me was probably more scary than the cancer, not knowing when your body will just give up on you.”
She hasn’t told her two young children the news of the cancer diagnosis yet.
“I remember how my 11-year-old took the news about my MND when she was six, it was a nightmare. Now my youngest daughter is six, I’m just going to wait to see what the specialist says before I say anything.”