How I saved Coronation Street Sue's life… by spotting her cancerous mole on TV
21:11 GMT, 16 June 2012
The outfit – a skimpy, sleeveless nightie – was, she hoped, just what was needed to turn the head of her toy boy.
Coronation Street’s Audrey Roberts, who has been played by actress Sue Nicholls for more than 33 years, was embroiled in a love triangle involving Nigel Havers as gigolo Lewis Archer and Rula Lenska as salon owner Claudia Colby.
In an effort to win Lewis’s affections, Audrey had taken to wearing unusually revealing clothes.
Lifesaver: Anna Bianconi-Moore walks with Sue Nicholls on the Coronation Street set at Granada Studios in Manchester
As is the way in soaps, Lewis’s affections for the glamorous grandmother have since blown hot and cold. But the wardrobe mistress’s choice for Sue that day was to have profound implications – the outfit saved her life. Watching that episode in the summer of 2010, after returning home from a busy shift in the dermatology clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, was nurse Anna Bianconi-Moore.
As the scene unfolded – with Audrey sitting in bed as Lewis came into the room to give her a birthday present – Anna’s attention was drawn to the dappled, ragged mole clearly visible on Sue’s shoulder.
‘I noticed it was irregular in shape and had at least three different colours that I could distinguish by standing close to the television,’ recalls the 55-year-old.
‘These are two of the red-flag signals that distinguish the most deadly form of skin cancer – malignant melanoma. I was obviously incredibly worried for Sue, and felt I needed to do something.’ Before the episode finished, Anna went online, found an email address for the ITV soap and contacted the show, expressing her concerns.
‘I didn’t want to be perceived as a deranged fan but I felt a moral obligation,’ Anna says. ‘If you saw a person about to step out in front of a bus, you would pull them back and that is how I felt.
‘I wrote that I had observed a sinister-looking lesion and suggested that Sue should see a specialist, sooner rather than later, as it may require urgent attention.’
The message was passed to the show’s in-house medical team, who called in the actress. The company doctor measured the mole and asked her to return a few months later to check if it had grown.
/06/16/article-0-13A423BD000005DC-545_634x465.jpg” width=”634″ height=”465″ alt=”Medical screening: The photo Anna took of her TV, with Sue's mole circled” class=”blkBorder” />
Medical screening: The photo Anna took of her TV, with Sue's mole circled
/06/16/article-2160284-13A42CB0000005DC-764_306x246.jpg” width=”306″ height=”246″ alt=”Happy ending: The original Mail on Sunday article in which Sue showed how her mole had been removed” class=”img-no-border” />
Happy ending: The original Mail on Sunday article in which Sue showed how her mole had been removed
Melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in Britain and cases are on the rise. Those with fair skin are more at risk. In Britain, more than 11,000 people are diagnosed with it annually, with the highest incidence in those more than 80 years old. In England and Wales, about eight in ten cases overall are cured.
Anna, who is divorced and has two adult sons, lives in Long Melford, Suffolk. She spent 30 years working in Jersey, where she had her own skin-cancer screening clinics. She says: ‘Sunny countries such as Australia and New Zealand have fewer people who die from skin cancer than Britain because they are much more aware of the disease. We have one of the highest rates of skin cancer deaths in the world.’
Skin cancer is broadly classed as either non-melanoma, accounting for about 90 per cent of cases, or melanoma, which is generally faster-growing.
These cancers grow from the layer of melanocytes – cells that produce pigment that protects the body from sun damage – below the surface of the skin.
If not caught early, the cancerous cells can quickly grow deeper into the layers of the skin, and then into the blood vessels and lymph channels (tiny tubes that carry lymph fluid, part of the immune system, around the body).
At this point, melanoma cells may travel to other parts of the body, causing tumours elsewhere, known as metastasis. In the early stages, treatment involves surgery and sometimes radiotherapy. More than 90 per cent of these cases are curable. However, patients whose cancer has spread rarely survive longer than a year.
Symptoms of melanoma include moles growing bigger, having irregular edges, or changing shape. Lesions that bleed, itch, crust over or are pink should also be checked by a specialist, as should moles that have at least two different colours or grow darker.
Know your ABCDE
Anna believes it’s our lack of regular sun that makes us lose all sense when it does shine. Ultraviolet exposure has been linked to increased levels of the brain chemical serotonin, responsible for feelings of wellbeing.
‘In this country we tend to flock out there at the first bit of sunshine,’ she says. ‘My advice, if you do want to sunbathe, is to start with a high-protection sun cream such as factor 30. It should be reapplied two-hourly and when coming out of the sea or a pool.’
Sue, who has homes in Manchester and North London, had a check-up with her surgeon recently and will continue to be monitored for a further four years.
She was a teenager in the Sixties when little was known of sun damage, and spent hours chasing a deep tan – sunbathing and buying a sunbed. She says: ‘I still sit on my balcony. The difference is that I am now slathered in high-factor sun cream and I don’t sit out until late afternoon and not for long. I also check my moles vigilantly.
‘As Audrey, I normally have my shoulders covered on screen, so it was quite unusual for me to be filmed in bed with my upper arms showing. I’m a great believer in fate and in this case it was a positive fate that Anna happened to be watching that particular episode that evening. ‘‘Thank you’’ just doesn’t seem enough.’