Love Island star Demi Jones says 'the pandemic delayed tests on mystery lump six times… then I was told I had cancer'
FOR a girl who has always taken pride in her appearance, the vivid, two-inch scar on the front of Love Islander Demi Jones’s neck has taken some getting used to.
“At first I felt really self- conscious about it,” she confides. “But then my nan told me to stop worrying about it. It’s a small price to pay for still being here.”
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Demi, a contestant in last year’s Love Island, underwent surgery a month ago to remove a golf-ball sized tumour on her thyroid gland after being told the devastating news that she had thyroid cancer.
Further painful surgery to remove her entire thyroid lies ahead, followed by radioactive iodine treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
It is an emotional rollercoaster for Demi, 22, who had been told the lump was harmless.
She was only diagnosed following months of delayed appointments due to the pandemic and after pushing doctors for further tests.
She says: “If I’d listened to the doctors then I might be sitting here now not knowing I had cancer inside me.
“I’ve felt scared and angry. I went for a coffee the other day with a friend and said ‘Why me? I don’t know anyone my age who has got cancer’. But I’m lucky, my cancer is treatable.”
Today Demi is upbeat when we meet to chat about her shocking news. And she is determined to use her fame to raise awareness.
'I CALLED MUM, SOBBING DOWN THE PHONE'
She says: “It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, but I’ve already contacted a few charities to enquire about becoming an ambassador.”
While rare, thyroid cancer diagnoses have increased in the past 20 years, and it is now the most common form of cancer in women aged between 15 and 30.
Often symptomless, it happens when DNA changes in the cells in the thyroid gland at the base of the neck, causing them to grow uncontrollably and produce a lump.
Demi was just 20 and at university when, in January 2019, she noticed a lump on the right side of her neck.
“I could see it when I swallowed,” she recalls. “I kept meaning to tell Mum, but I was so busy preparing for exams I just dismissed it.”
It wasn’t until she went back home to Portsmouth in the summer that Demi mentioned it to her mum Karen.
Demi says: “She went into panic mode and said I needed to get a referral.”
That came in July, and in October she went to her local hospital for a scan, ultrasound and blood test. After those she was told her lump was a harmless nodule.
She says: “The tests all came back completely clear. Even today I don’t know why the ultrasound didn’t show anything.”
Demi’s apparent good news was overshadowed when her beloved stepfather Adrian, then just 46, was told he had incurable Stage 4 melanoma and had just months to live.
He had first been to see a doctor 18 months earlier after finding a lump on his ear, which he suspected was skin cancer, but had struggled to be referred to a specialist. Now it was too late.
Demi says: “The doctors said he was covered top to toe in cancer and all they could do was manage it. We were all devastated.”
Demi took the decision to fly to South Africa and join Love Island as part of the cast for the 2020 season.
She says: “I didn’t want to leave him but he was insistent I went. He didn’t want me to miss out on this amazing opportunity.”
Demi spent four weeks in the villa, enjoying two romances, with builder Nas Majeed and Justin Bieber lookalike Luke Mabbott.
She left at the start of March, two weeks before the UK went into lockdown.
She says: “We’d been completely shut off from all the news so coming out to find we were in a global pandemic was surreal.”
Demi also emerged to social media messages from eagle-eyed viewers to say she should get her lump checked out.
She says: “I’d already had it looked at, so I thought I had nothing to really worry about.” Six months later, Demi noticed the lump had grown and made another doctor’s appointment.
Don’t delay seeing doc any longer
By Carol Cooper, Sun Doctor
THE pandemic has led to a lot of non-Covid ill-health because of other serious conditions being diagnosed and treated less promptly.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed by Covid, and many staff have caught it too. In some cases patients have been reluctant to get medical help for fear of becoming infected.
Cancers cause a wide variety of symptoms. See the doctor for any lump that persists for more than two weeks, especially if it’s more than two inches across or feels hard or rubbery.
The earlier cancers are treated, the better the outcome. Unfortunately, around 40,000 fewer people than normal began cancer treatment in the UK last year.
Cancelled and rescheduled appointments added to the delays. It is estimated that Covid could lead to an increase of up to 16 per cent in deaths from several common cancers.
Alongside virtual appointments, GPs are still offering face-to-face consultations, which are usually the most appropriate kind when something needs to be examined.
That old saying still holds true: It’s better to be safe than sorry.
She says: “They referred me straight away, but every time an appointment came through for another scan and blood test it was cancelled.”
Demi’s appointment was pushed back six times over seven months, an experience shared by thousands of others during lockdown, which has seen huge delays to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Earlier this year medical journal The Lancet reported that around 40,000 fewer people than normal started cancer treatment in the UK last year, while disruptions to service meant that 60 per cent of referrals are waiting longer than three months.
Finally, at the end of March, the hospital called asking Demi to come in the following week.
But once again her blood tests and ultrasound did not show that anything was amiss. Demi says: “They were about to send me away, but all I could think of was that they did that to Dad.
“It was only when they scanned his full body that they found cancer in his chest. So I asked if there were any more tests they could do.”
The doctors offered to drain the fluid from her lump and send it for testing, telling her they would see her again in two weeks.
“I wasn’t worried,” Demi says. “To me it was an extra precaution.”
Yet when she returned to the hospital a fortnight later — alone, due to Covid rules — she was to receive devastating news.
Demi recalls: “Pretty much as soon as I had walked in the consultant said, ‘We’re really sorry. We think it could be thyroid cancer. We need this cut out of you as quickly as possible’.
“I was in complete shock. It was a cancer I didn’t even know existed, and now I had it. I called my mum, sobbing down the phone.”
'WHEN I SAW THE NURSE, I KNEW I HAD CANCER'
Dazed and devastated, Demi also put the news on her Instagram feed. She was inundated with calls from worried family and friends, among them her Love Island co-stars.
She says: “My brother called me saying, ‘What the hell?’ Lots of people were really worried and I had to reassure them.”
Two weeks later Demi returned to the hospital for the lump to be removed and sent off for testing.
She says: “I was incredibly anxious as I’d never had any kind of surgery before, and while it sounds silly, I was worried about the scar on my neck.
“Now I’ve decided to really own it because I’ve had a few young girls message me who have had thyroid cancer saying it’s been nice to see someone with a scar.”
An agonising three-week wait for the results followed.
Demi says: “I kept telling myself that if I thought positively, that it wasn’t cancer, it might work.”
It didn’t. On Thursday last week Demi returned to see her consultant — this time accompanied by her mum — to find a Macmillan cancer nurse in the room with him.
“As soon as I saw her, I knew I had cancer,” Demi says. “I remember feeling quite numb.
“I had prepared for the worst, but my head still felt like scrambled egg as the doctor explained what needed to happen.”
The good news was that Demi’s cancer was slow-growing and treatable. Called papillary thyroid cancer, it has a good prognosis, with around nine in every ten sufferers alive five years after diagnosis. Many will have a normal lifespan.
Nonetheless, Demi now needs invasive surgery to remove her entire thyroid and must take hormone tablets for life.
She says: “The doctors said I am likely to get tired and have low energy. I might also put on weight or lose it. It’s a bit overwhelming but it is a small price to pay.”
Part of the treatment involves swallowing iodine, which kills cancerous cells in the blood.
The iodine will temporarily make her body slightly radioactive but will not affect her future fertility.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer
The symptoms of thyroid cancer include:
- If you notice a painless lump or swollen glands in your neck
- Difficulty swallowing food and drink
- A sore throat that doesn't go away after a number of weeks
Beyond that, she should need no further treatment. Demi, who is single, says it has changed her outlook on life.
She says: “Before, I was always getting dressed up to the nines to promote a brand. Now I am enjoying showing a more natural me on my Instagram.”
More than anything, she is grateful, saying: “When you’re my age you assume you will live until you’re 80. This has made me appreciate everything so much more.”
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