The Bill star Ben Richards has spoken for the first time about his desperate battle with bowel cancer - and how it is the latest tragedy to hit his family.
Speaking exclusively to HELLO! Magazine, he confessed that he had ignored warning signals that he had the disease for an astonishing five months. "I was being a typical bloke," he said, admitting that he had put off seeing his GP.
When he did visit his GP, he was immediately referred to a specialist and was given the "bolt out of the blue" diagnosis just two days later. The consultant told him: "You’ve got a 6cm tumour in your bowel."
"It was like the wind had gone out of my sails," Ben told HELLO!, "like someone had punched me in the stomach."
In a remarkable coincidence, his wife Helen was at another hospital appointment at the exact same time.
The couple have battled fertility problems – they have lost seven babies before full-term – and Helen was having injections in her stomach ahead of a further treatment.
She called Ben to see how his treatment went and he went "quiet and cagey."
"I said if you don't tell me I'm going to think it's something really bad like cancer," she recalled. "He just went quiet.
"I literally dropped the phone and ran outside and sat in my car and cried."
The couple consider themselves to be strong characters and being united in their grief over losing their babies to diastrophic dysplasia, a disorder of cartilage and bone development. But Helen admits there are times when it is all too much.
"There are days when you get up and you cry for 20 minutes in the shower," she says. "Every morning, you wake up and it feels as if you've been really drunk and you want to go back to sleep and pretend it didn't happen.
They you realise 'yes it did and you've got to wake up and get on with life'."
Ben is undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment and has a more positive attitude. Comparing his cancer to a boxing match, he says: "Some days it beats me and I'm against the ropes and I lose the round. But then I fight back."
Doctors are "very confident of a full recovery" and his treatment, which will also include two operations, is due to finish at the end of August.
Ben admits that his wife's "nagging" spurred him on to the GP and ask him about the symptoms he had been experiencing, which included blood in his stools. He is hoping that by speaking out about his illness, he will encourage others to visit their GPs, too.
Read the full article in HELLO!, issue 1217 out now.