Father-of-two Matt Heywood, 37, has so far rallied a team of 13 friends and family who will accompany him on the expedition up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon on Saturday, August 13, in support of Melanoma Focus.
In the summer of 2021 he was diagnosed with stage two skin cancer, which then progressed to stage three having entered his lymph nodes.
Matt, a designer at Studio 10 Kitchens in Bakewell, said: “I was in hospital at the start of January for lymphatic removal surgery and thinking about my recovery goals. I climb mountains for fun, and had plans to tick off Ben Nevis before my diagnosis. I wanted to get fit enough again to finally do it.
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“Then I was talking to my mum about what it’s been like to stare down the barrel of this and realise how it affects people, and we came up with the idea of raising some money. We decided on the 3 Peaks to make it more of a challenge, and within 72 hours of sharing the idea on social media, we had a whole team.”
He added: “I want to do this while I’m still living my story, and there will be a massive personal reward to it, but it’s to help people nationwide who are going through the same things.
“It’s really hit home spending time in hospital and seeing people ten years younger than me facing this. How do you manage to live if you don’t know what’s around the corner?
“Melanoma Focus was recommended by one of my treatment specialists as the best UK charity working on research and patient support for this kind of cancer.”
The team is already well on the way to their initial target of £1,000, and Matt’s motivation is not just to help fellow patients, but all those whose lives are touched by the disease.
He has seen the impact it has had on his mum Jane, fiancée Nikki Hodgkinson, daughters aged six and nine, and his wider circle of loved ones.
He said: “I’m quite a headstrong character and always think something’s not worth worrying about until it is. I’ve had my wobbles but I can go weeks and weeks without really thinking about it.
“It has hurt me to see how it’s hurt my family though. With all the unknowns and unforeseeable aspects of cancer, and all the waiting in limbo, you know it’s bad, you just don’t know how bad – and people around you really suffer.”
Matt is also hoping that by sharing his story he can encourage people to be alert to the danger of skin cancer, and the benefits of early intervention.
He said: “I was in really good health and didn’t feel poorly at all. I had this lesion in the centre of my back which I would catch in the mirror every so often, then forget about. There was nothing that hurt or was constantly reminding me that it might be a problem.
“Covid was making it difficult to see a doctor anyway, and things would always come up at work or with the family and I would put myself to the bottom of the list. I feel I should have done things differently now. As soon as I got my diagnosis, it all moved quickly like a military operation – the doctors at the Christie deserve massive credit.
“I know there are other people who might think ‘it’s just a bit of a mole’ but that’s the wrong way to go. My ‘bit of nothing’ ended up being life-changing.”
Following his fourth operation this month, Matt’s doctors are optimistic about his prospects. Even in the best-case scenario though, he still faces what is likely to be a gruelling year of immune therapy to target any cancer cells which might remain in his body.
He said: “Four out of the 30 lymph nodes they removed were melanoma positive, and based on those results they are confident it won’t have spread any further. It feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m just waiting on the next set of scans now.
“But melanoma is one of the cancers with the greatest chance of recurrence. I’ve been told there’s something like a 60 per cent chance it could return within five years.”
Anxieties around his future will not deter Matt from taking on the fundraising challenge though, and he is gradually venturing back out into the Peak District as he gets back on his feet.
He said: “I’ve spoken to people at the Christie about it this week, and they said from what they’ve seen of my physical condition and mindset, I should be able to do all the necessary training by August.
“There is the risk of relapse, and the question of how I respond to the immune therapy. It’s not like chemo or radiotherapy but I could be very ill a month before the challenge. I’m 95 per cent sure I’ll make it. Even if I can’t do the whole thing, my team will and I’ll do what I can. It’s affected us all and we’ll do it together.”
Matt will be tracking his recovery and training process on social media over the next eight months to help raise awareness of the charity’s work, encourage donations and show what is possible for melanoma patients.