Gallery: Wife's brave journey five years after husband and father-of-four loses battle with bowel cancer
Melissa Cutting's world imploded when she heard the devastating news her husband and father to their four children had incurable bowel cancer in 2007 after a two-year delay in diagnosis.
‘No-one can put a price on Chris’
In the days after Chris’ death, Melissa consulted a solicitor and launched legal proceedings against the GP who misdiagnosed her husband.
“We had talked about speaking to a solicitor but decided we didn’t want to do it while Chris was alive,” Melissa explains.
“We wanted to concentrate on enjoying whatever time we had together but that turned out to be mistake because he was not here to put his side across.”
Melissa’s lawyers told London’s High Court that the doctor carried out nothing more than a “simple visual examination” and failed to thoroughly investigate the problems.
The GP denied any responsibility for Chris’ death and his legal team insist he “would have died in any event”, even if he had received specialist treatment from 2005.
Judge Dame Patterson has now ruled that “with earlier treatment Mr Goodhead would have lived for a short further period of some four months until May 2009”.
As a result, she was awarded £50,000 in compensation with the costs yet to be agreed.
She adds: “After the judgement I was disappointed. My own belief is that Chris would still be here today and that was the belief of my expert oncologist Professor Justin Stebbing, from Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust.
“I needed to do something to get justice for Chris but also to make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else.
“It has taken five years to get to this stage and it’s been tortuous.
“The trial was harrowing to relive it and listen to people talk about your husband as a statistic, about his financial worth.
“No-one can put a price on Chris so that was the hardest thing and valuing the special loss of the love and affection of a husband and father.”
Melissa says a share of the £50,000 will be donated to Beating Bowel Cancer and World Vision, with the rest spent on building happy memories for Chris’ sons.
And now, five years after Chris Goodhead, 41, lost his battle, she is highlighting the importance of early diagnosis. Health correspondent Lauren EverItt reports
“I will always remember sitting in the room when the consultant looked as us and said it had already gone to Chris’ liver,” Melissa says. “It was my worst nightmare.
“This man was my dream man. He was my knight in shining armour. He was just a wonderful husband and father. My whole world imploded at that point.”
That was June 2007 but Chris first visited his GP, in Essex, after experiencing some rectal bleeding in April 2005.
Although Chris was not “unduly worried” about it, Melissa urged him to get it checked out, with the GP giving a diagnosis of piles and prescribing cream and suppositories.
Melissa, who lives in Helmingham, says: “He carried on really. Piles were no big deal and it didn’t affect his life.
“He was a very fit man and we both trained for the London Marathon in April 2007.”
But six weeks after the marathon, Chris’ symptoms worsened and he went back to his GP who gave him medication for constipation and queried internal piles.
“Taking the laxatives made it worse and I told him to go back and ask to be referred.
“He saw a consultant who did a physical examination and was told ‘you have got something there I can feel, I’m pretty sure it’s cancer’.”
Melissa, 47, describes having a “ghastly” camping trip to the New Forest waiting for the test results.
They were told that he had a tumour the size of a small orange in his bowel, 20 tumours in his liver and lymph nodes. The cancer had also spread to his pelvis which was fractured.
After receiving the diagnosis, the couple, who were married for 14 years, saw an oncologist who told them the median survival rate was 18 months but that Chris was expected to live longer than that.
Through Chris’ job as a sales consultant with IT firm Dell, he had private healthcare and was able to receive his chemotherapy treatment at home - something Melissa describes as a “blessing” with four young boys who were only three, seven, nine and 11 at the time.
“Every two weeks we had an amazing chemo nurse come in who was unbelievable,” she explains. “The cancer and chemo was always in our lives - you couldn’t get away from it.
“It was a very time-consuming and all-consuming part of our lives.
“Those months were hard and a complete rollercoaster but we were determined we were going to beat it.
“Although we were told he could never beat it, no-one ever used the word ‘terminal’.
“We researched everything to the hilt to make sure we were doing the right things, and at the same time, Chris would have scans with good news one week and bad the next. There were lots of ups and downs.”
She adds: “I remember when we told the boys that daddy had cancer they asked ‘does that mean daddy is going to die?’ and I told them we were going to do everything we could to prevent that.”
During the 19 months the family shared together following Chris’ diagnosis, they bought a sports car and a boat - two things Chris had always wanted - thanks to a critical illness policy payout.
“Chris absolutely adored that boat and we spent many happy days on it at Waldringfield in the months following his diagnosis,” Melissa says. “We had a holiday to South Africa and all five of us created memory boxes.
“Chris wrote a bit about his life for the boys but he only got as far as meeting me before he died.” After that, he was too poorly to write his memories.
That writing is something that is precious to Cameron, 16, Ali, 15, Archie, 13, and 10-year-old Jamie.
The word ‘terminal’ was first mentioned to Chris and Melissa the night before he died.
Melissa, who has since remarried, adds: “A few of days before that my GP said it was the beginning of the end.
“Three days after that Chris had to go to hospital to have fluid drained from his abdomen but came home afterwards.
“The next morning I was talking to a private nurse, who had come in to help, when I was called up to Chris.
“He was going. The boys managed to say goodbye before he died on January 4, 2009, at home.”
In the days after Chris died, Melissa says she kept going for the boys.
“I battened down the hatches and didn’t leave the house unless it involved the children.
“I didn’t want people stopping me in the streets asking me questions. I couldn’t handle it.”
Although Melissa says the grief and loss will never leave them, the family wants to move forward.
“I still can’t watch any videos of Chris but I’m very lucky that my husband John has been very good about it,” she says.
“We have pictures of Chris all around the house and talk about him regularly.
“We have a great life here in Suffolk and I know Chris would absolutely approve of it.
“The boys still sail at Waldringfield and they are very happy at their schools - Framlingham College and Brandeston.”
In 2011, Melissa married John Cutting. She says: “When I lost Chris I thought ‘that’s it’ but I set myself the objective of wanting to be loved again because I had such a happy marriage.
“A friend said she couldn’t imagine a more perfect couple than Chris and I. I wanted to have that again.
“John and I met at Waldringfield about seven months after Chris died but I wasn’t ready for anything.
“We started seeing each other in the November 2009 and got married in June 2011.
“He is an amazing stepfather to the boys.”
So what does the future hold for Melissa? She wants to spread the word about bowel cancer and the importance of an early diagnosis with the charity, Beating Bowel Cancer.
“Reading about yourself in the papers is tough, especially when it’s something so personal, but even if one life gets saved as a result, then that’s really worthwhile.
“If you have symptoms, you must keep going back to your GP. The problem is that sometimes you are made to feel like a hypochondriac but actually you might just be saving your life.
“If you are not happy with your GP’s diagnosis, see another one and keep pushing.
“Don’t be embarrassed about it. Doctors see bottoms all the time.
“Early diagnosis is absolutely critical with bowel cancer. Your chances are much higher.”