Jacqui Drake has stage 4 melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. She had her first melanoma at 30, but after having a mole removed from her leg, the cancer returned 17 years later.

59-year-old Jacqui, who won the Kate Granger Award for Outstanding Contribution at The Yorkshire Choice Awards on 6th May said:

“Britain perhaps has a more lackadaisical approach to the sun compared to those in sunnier climes, but that only makes it more dangerous. Just because the UK has lots of cloud and rain, doesn’t mean you should forget your sunscreen. National public health awareness on sun protection in other countries has proven to reduce melanoma rates. In Australia, their Slip! Slop! Slap! Awareness campaign has resulted in melanoma rates plummeting in the past 18 years. I want to emulate this campaign in the UK.”

Jacqui has been treated at Leeds Cancer Centre for over 12 years since she was diagnosed with stage four malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Leeds Cancer Centre’s five-year survival rates for melanoma is significantly higher than average.

Since 2009, Jacqui had three operations to remove the cancer on her leg, but it then travelled in her blood to her lungs, and in 2015 her right lung had to be removed. She’s suffered colitis as a result of chemo, and pneumocystis and almost lost her life.

Despite being clinically vulnerable, the choreographer and former dance teacher ran her ‘Jacqui’s Million Appeal’ raising funds throughout the pandemic. To date, she’s raised over £300k for Leeds Hospitals Charity to support staff and patients at Leeds Cancer Centre, run by the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, to provide specialist equipment, support research projects, and improve the ward environment for cancer patients.

Funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity supported The Melanoma Research Group at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, who conducted the biggest research survey of its kind in the world; 2,184 melanoma patients took part. It explored the role of inflammation, typically associated with obesity, diabetes, poor diet and little exercise on survival rates. This helps identify patients who could benefit from drugs, which lower the causes of inflammation and increase their chance of survival.

Dr Walayat Hussain, Consultant Dermatologist & Skin Cancer Lead from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said, “Jacqui is a remarkable force of positivity, and I have huge admiration for her work raising awareness and funds. More awareness is needed. Few people know for instance that skin cancer can develop in the mouth, nails and eyes. Like any cancer, it’s important to catch it as early as possible, but prevention is of course vital. It’s not just sunny days we need to worry about, but UV strength on cloudy days. We need to apply the right combined sun protection - UVA and UVB - and to apply it throughout the day while we are outside. We need to be especially careful in ensuring children do not ever get sunburned.”

To help change behaviours in parents and children, Jacqui recently published her first children’s book - Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen - in collaboration with fellow cancer patient, Sandra Hudson, to highlight the importance of sun protection.

The book normalises hats, and sun cream alongside buckets and spades as three children go on an adventure in the sun. Just as we teach children to wash their hands after using the bathroom, or brush their teeth before bed, she feels sun protection should be an everyday measure.

Jacqui said: “It’s just normalising the behaviour of wearing a hat, putting on sun cream, and so on, not scaring children, we don’t mention the ‘C’ word anywhere in the story. You wouldn’t send a child out into the snow without a coat, why would you send them out in the sun without adequate protection?”

Jacqui’s ambition is for her book to be widely available in schools, on airplanes, and in holiday parks to help foster a healthier relationship with the sun from an early age.

To purchase a copy of Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen, for £5, with all profits going to Jacqui’s Million, contact Jacqui directly on: [email protected]