My son's tattoo artist saw the first symptom of killer disease that took his life at just 20 – know the signs

A MUM whose son died at just 20 years old says his tattoo artist was the first to spot a symptom of his disease.

Tom Linton, from Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was “over the moon” to get inked on his 18th birthday.  

The artist had warned him to get a mole on his arm checked out but he thought nothing of it.

He never mentioned it to his mum, Amanda Linton, until he was diagnosed with a advanced skin cancer of the most deadly kind (melanoma) at the age of 19.

Amanda, 48, watched her “very popular” and “loveable” boy pass away months later in May, just after his 20th birthday.

The mum-of-two told Chronicle Live: "Nobody had anything bad to say about him. He touched the hearts of everyone he met.

"He was just somebody that everybody loved and once you had been with Tom, you felt so much better."

Recalling how things unfolded, Amanda said: "For his 18th birthday, he wanted this tattoo, I was a bit against it but he wanted a half sleeve.

"The mole was on the inner of his arm and the tattoo artist had said to Tom: 'I would get that checked out’.

"Tom never mentioned it to me, he was 18 and was so over the moon with this tattoo, the mole was the least of his worries.”

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Tom, who worked at Lloyds Bank and was studying at Northumbria University, had begun to feel unwell towards the end of 2019.

He was losing weight – a key sign of cancer – and had developed “blue spots” on his chest.

Doctors said they had “never seen anything like it” when Tom was rushed to A&E after suffering pain in his chest.

Although Tom was sent for scans, he went backwards and forwards to doctors with no answers to what was wrong. 

Eventually, Tom collapsed while out bowling with friends and was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Amanda said she had a “horrible feeling” something was going to happen before he left because he “didn’t look well”.

When I asked him about the mole he said: 'Mum, I really didn't think it was anything as bad as this’.

Amanda said: "The doctors said they were going to scan him and I just knew something was not right.

“He was scanned again and that was when they found out there was cancer in his liver, his kidneys, and his lungs.”

When doctors investigated to find the primary cause of his cancer, they discovered he had melanoma. 

Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, diagnosed in around 16,000 people each year and causing 2,300 deaths.

Although it is usually seen in older people, one in four cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50, and very rarely under the age of 30.

The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. Some can develop over many years. 

Photos show Tom’s mole, the same one flagged by the tattoo artist, is a deep dark colour.

Fast deterioration

Amanda said: "I was rubbing his arm as he was in pain and I noticed a mole on his arm. 

“The doctor said he thought it definitely came from that mole.

"When I asked him about the mole he said: 'Mum, I really didn't think it was anything as bad as this’.

"Cancer would be the last thing a young lad would think.

"Tom told me he had never really heard of melanoma, he didn't know anything about it."

After Tom’s diagnosis in January 2020, his condition quickly deteriorated in front of his family – Amanda, dad Steven, 50, and twin sister Hannah, 21.

Amanda said: “Everything was against him, the treatment was making him really unwell.

"He lost his sight in one eye and the sight in his other eye wasn't great and he was really frustrated.

"He just said: 'I want to go home to die, I want to be with my mum and dad and Hannah'.”

In March 2020, medics said they didn’t expect him to survive another weekend. 

With the UK in the first Covid lockdown, Tom’s friends and girlfriend were unable to visit him at the time. 

The family got another six weeks with Tom until he passed away.

They are now granting his dying wish – “that nobody else will go through” what he did, and to raise awareness of melanoma. 

Together with the charity MelanomaMe, the family are organising “Tom's Fest” to be held on May 28 at Tom’s school, Park View School, with bands, tribute acts, and food stalls.

Founder of the charity Kerry Rafferty, who was diagnosed with the disease aged 37, said: "Tom never went on the sunbeds and Amanda would lather him in suncream, they were always very careful.

"He never got sunburn, he's never been on a sunbed, he did everything right.

"I don't think people realise you can be born with melanoma it can be passed on from parents and that it's not always caused by the sun.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking what his family is going through. His sister has to live life without her brother.

"But I feel really blessed I can help in some way.”

Tickets for Tom’s Fest will cost £20. The charity is also looking for sponsors for the event. Anyone interested should email: [email protected]

The ABCDE checklist to see if you need to see a doctor about skin cancer

We all have moles and are aware that changes to them could signal something serious.

If you are unsure whether you need to see a doctor or not you can use the ABCDE checklist to help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a possible cancerous one.

  • A – asymmetry – the two halves of the area may differ in shape or colour
  • B – border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
  • C – colour – this may be uneven. Several different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
  • D – diameter – most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor
  • E – evolution – if you see progressive changes in size, shape or colour over weeks or a few months, you must seek expert help

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