Councillor issues warning about the dangers of fast-growing cancer

Councillor Derek Giles is recovering at home in St Neots after his cancer treatment

Councillor Derek Giles is recovering at home in St Neots after his cancer treatment - Credit: Archant

A St Neots town councillor who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the start of the year has spoken out about the deadly disease to warn others.

Over the last 10 months, Derek Giles has undergone an eight-hour operation, developed sepsis and come very close to having his left leg amputated after the cancer spread up his leg at a rapid rate.

Derek is a well known face in St Neots and serves as a town, district and county councillor, and along with his wife, Sandie, who is a town and district councillor, the couple can best be described as community stalwarts.

He says in November 2018, he became aware of an ache in his left leg and was told he had probably sprained it, but a few weeks later, a small lump developed on the knee. He went to his GP and was told it was probably a cyst.

He and Sandie, who have lived in the town for more than 40 years, had booked a cruise for January of this year to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and although his leg ached and he felt a bit tired, Derek wasn't too concerned and certainly didn't feel unwell.

"I decided to have acupuncture on the cruise for some arthritis pain and the practitioner took one look at my knee and told me to get it checked out when I got home," he said.

At home, before he had even made the appointment, he bent down to tie his shoelace and heard a strange "whooshing" sound coming from his knee and went to A&E where staff thought the problem was muscular.

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At the end of January he was starting to feel extremely tired and was struggling to put weight on his left leg so his GP referred him to Addenbrooke's Hospital for an ultrasound examination.

The ultrasound revealed a huge mass on his knee and there were concerns about something else underneath the mass. He was then given the devastating cancer diagnosis and admits he had never heard of a haemorrhagic sarcoma. Sarcomas are uncommon cancers that can affect any part of the body, on the inside or outside, including the muscle, bone, tendons, blood vessels and fatty tissues.

"I sat with the consultant and told him that I didn't have a clue what it was," admitted Derek.

"My first thought was whether it was operable and he told me it was."

The plan was to shrink the mass with radiotherapy and then operate, but further tests revealed it was growing and spreading so quickly that Derek was referred to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, in Birmingham, and underwent major surgery on April 4.

During an eight-hour surgery, the surgeon removed 5.1 kilos of diseased tissue.

"He told me if they had left it another two weeks, I would have faced having my leg amputated," explained Derek.

"This type of cancer is very aggressive and although there is a good success rate if they operate, it is difficult to detect and is often misdiagnosed."

Over the next few months, Derek had several hospital stays and developed sepsis at one point, but he remains pragmatic about his experience and is keen to get the message out to other people so they know what to look out for.

He said: "Sarcomas are silent killers as they usually start with a small lump which is not particularly painful. Also, apart from being a bit tired, I didn't feel ill. I don't want to worry people, but I want people to be concerned enough to check any lumps out, as for me this happened in a few weeks. I had a lump that looked like a cyst and then I could have been facing amputation."

Sandie added: "This is a long road and we are not at the end of it yet, but we have had the most amazing support from family, friends and everyone who has been involved in Derek's care. I have often sat here and thought 'how much worse can things get?' but we are determined to stay positive."


* ABOUT 5,300 people are diagnosed with sarcoma each year in the UK.

* There are around 100 different sub-types of sarcoma.

* Sarcomas commonly affect the arms, legs and trunk. They also appear in the stomach and intestines as well as behind the abdomen and the female reproductive system.

* Bone sarcomas affect about 670 people in the UK each year, but not all bone cancers will be sarcomas.

* Soft tissue sarcomas can affect any part of the body; they develop in supporting or connective tissue such as the muscle, nerves, fatty tissue, and blood vessels.