THE deputy mayor of Henley has talked publicly for the first time about the cancer scare which kept him off work for months.
Martin Akehurst, 65, has just returned to civic duties after being diagnosed with a tumour on an artery in his neck.
Doctors say the growth is “dormant” and not getting any bigger so are not planning to remove it but the part-time actor is likely to need radiotherapy.
Councillor Akehurst, who lives with his wife Glynnis in Two Tree Hill, Henley, told the Henley Standard: “It is scary when something like this pops up — it frightens the life out of you.It looks like radiotherapy is the next step but I know someone who had a tumour removed from the same place and she was 85, so it can be done.”
Cllr Akehurst is the likely choice of Henley Residents’ Group, the ruling party on the town council, to take over as Mayor in May.
“I’d certainly like to have a crack,” he said.
Cllr Akehurst went the Bell Street surgery to see a doctor about a lump on his neck in April last year.
He was sent to a specialist who diagnosed the tumour on his carotid artery. An X-ray also revealed that he had a broken collarbone which he didn’t know about.
In November he withdrew from council duties in November on the advice of his specialist who warned that stress could make him worse. He also had to turn away offers of acting work.
Cllr Akehurst, who used to have a regular part in the Catherine Tate Show, said the diagnosis came as a shock.
“I’ve always had excellent health,” he said. “I felt the lump but like most people you don’t think there’s anything wrong until you go to the doctor.
“The tumour is on the artery, which isn’t the best place to have it. The doctor said I could have had it for years or it could have popped up in the last few months.”
He was referred to the specialist in Reading who told him to take a break from work for up to six months and then to see if the tumour had grown.
He said: “I was told to put my feet up and avoid stress for a few months and that’s when I told him I am deputy mayor!”
Cllr Akehurst was granted an extended leave of absence by the council.
“The council was very good,” he said. “The councillors were all very supportive and said they would give me time off and just to let them know when it’s fixed.
“I’m also a freemason and a professional actor so I had to stop doing both of those as well but my stress level has been a lot lower.
“It’s a hell of a shock when something like this happens and it makes you re-evaluate things. It does make you look at life and ask, ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’
“Glynnis was obviously very concerned but supported me well.”
The couple were joined for Christmas by their daughters Madeline, 34, and Bryony, 32, their husbands Richard Child and Hugh Meyrick and grandsons Joshua, one, and Freddie, two.
“Christmas isn’t Christmas without kids,” said Cllr Akehurst. “It was a good time to forget about everything and being busy helped take my mind off it.”
He stayed active during his lay-off and finished a model of a Great Western steam engine which he had started to build in his shed 18 months earlier.
“I’m not the sort of bloke who puts his feet up,” he said. “There were a lot of small things I kept myself busy with — little jobs I’d said I’d do when I had five minutes spare and I certainly had five minutes.”
Cllr Akehurst went back to see his specialist earlier this month and was cleared to return to work.
He said: “The tumour is still there but it’s not growing. They call it ‘dormant’. It’s not causing problems and they don’t want to touch it unless they have to. The specialist also told me, ‘you realise you have smashed your collarbone at some point’ and I said I had no idea.
“I don’t mind, I’d rather have a bust collarbone than anything else. I think it must have happened when I was very young. I went to a tough primary school in South London where they just patched you up and sent you back to the playground.”
Cllr Akehurst was given a round of applause by his fellow councillors and members of the public when he returned for a council meeting last week.
“I was very moved,” he said. “But I’ve got off very lightly from all this and I think at the end of the day the town will benefit because it has got me to focus on what I want to contribute.
“I’d certainly like to have a crack at being Mayor, there’s always a lot you can achieve. You meet lots of people and this can lead to doing a hell of a lot for the town.
“With my background in planning and traffic advisory, I think I could do a lot but we will see — it’s not my choice.
“I’ve also got my two young grandsons and I want to spend time with them as well.”
“I’ve had great fun in my life. I worked for IBM all over the world, took early retirement, ran my own web design company and became a professional actor.
“With the council, I was keen to get back as you feel obligated because a lot of people have voted for you.
“It’s amazing how much moves on in four months and I’m running to keep up on everything going through council now.”
Mrs Akehurst, a former deputy head of Valley Road School, said: “I was very worried. It was an anxious time wondering what developments would take.
“I felt very helpless but I had to try and keep Martin’s mind off it. I’m always a bit bossy because I used to be a teacher and I had to keep him busy.”
Cllr Akehurst added: “I lost a stone in weight through worry and also trying to eat a bit more healthily. Unfortunately, I’ve probably put it back on since I came back due to the relief!”