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skin cancer awareness

Skin Cancer Awareness Month | Real Life Story

May marks skin cancer awareness month. 

With spring in the air and summer in our sights, we know the sun is sure to shine on us in the next few months. 

May marks Skin Cancer Awareness Month so we thought it would be fitting to share a few facts and of course how to lower your risk.  

We also have a real life story from a fantastic lady who has shared her experience with us.

Real Life Story

I used to be an avid sun-bed goer. And when I say avid, I mean addicted to them. The obsession started from when I went to uni. I struggled to sleep at night, and there was a tanning salon that was always open until 11pm, around the corner from my halls. I felt like it was a bit of a saviour as I’d go there for 10.30pm for a 10-15minute sun-bed, and then I’d be ready for bed. The obsession got a bit out of hand whilst I was at uni, where people would ask me where I’d been on holiday, if they hadn’t seen me in a couple of weeks!
I always enjoyed sunbathing on holiday, and would make sure that my towel was ready by the pool at 7am (yes, I USED to be one of those people).
After uni, the obsession with the sun-beds reduced and I certainly wasn’t going on them half as much as I used to. I still enjoyed the sunshine and would sit out to get a tan whenever it showed it’s face.
The effects of the sun were never really publicised back then. I knew sun-beds weren’t great for your skin, but I always thought, ‘it’ll never happen to me’.
Whilst on a cruise around the Caribbean in November 2015,  I was queuing for dinner, and an American man with a walking stick put his hand on my bare back. I was wearing the only backless dress that I own and my hair was up. I was very wary of this man and clutched at my handbag, hoping that there was enough people for him to be deterred of mugging me. Little did I know, but this man was about to save my life.
He looked at me and said ‘mam, that mark on your back doesn’t look right to me. I’m a sufferer of cancer and I just don’t like the look of that mole on your back. I couldn’t walk away from here without telling you. I’m sorry if I’ve ruined your dinner but I’d advise you to see your doctor when you get home’. 
He was right about it all. I did have fucking cancer, and he did ruin my dinner. Obviously, I didn’t find out on the boat that I had a malignant melanoma, but during this holiday, my boyfriend proposed to me. The conversation with the American stranger soon became a distant memory, and I began to enjoy my holiday again.
I eventually went to the doctor a few months later, and the GP checked it over and said she didn’t think there was anything to worry about, but for reassurance she would refer me to the dermatology department at Croydon hospital.
Around 4 weeks later my appointment with the dermatologist arrived. Another doctor checked my suspicious mole and reassured me that she didn’t think there was anything sinister about it, but for my peace of mind she would remove it and another mole that was on the side of my leg. I went in a few weeks later for the op’s to remove the moles.
I waited 6 weeks before I heard anything from the hospital. I remember saying to my mum that it had been so long since the removal, that surely if anything was wrong, they’d have contacted me by now. I knew that the local hospital to my mum, was a max wait of 4 weeks for a cancer diagnosis. I thought I was out of the woods! Then I received a text to say I had an appointment at the hospital the following day. 
I rang the dermatology department and explained that I didn’t have an appointment booked in but had received this message. She informed me that I was required to attend to go through my results. I still very much held on to the fact that it couldn’t be cancer as they’d have told me weeks before. I decided to go alone and drove myself to the hospital.
When I arrived, I was greeted by the consultant who was so friendly and upbeat in the waiting area. As soon as we reached her room and she took her seat, her whole expression changed. She was back to doing her job. She told me that there was good and bad news. I asked for the good news first. She said the mole on my leg came back normal and there was nothing to worry about.
The bad news was that the mole on my back was in fact a malignant melanoma. At that time I had no idea what that meant. I must have looked blankly at her as she just said, it’s cancer.
I can’t really remember exactly how I felt but I recall trying my hardest not to cry and to take as much as what she was saying in.
She told me that I’d be required to go through another op to remove the skin around the area to detect if it had spread further than the mole itself. She also asked me to take my clothes off, to now check every mole on my body. I was stood there with just my pants on crying. I’d never felt so vulnerable in all my life. During this time a couple of doctors poked their heads through, and one in particular saw that I was crying. He took my hand and said that he was going to take so much care of me. 
After the consultant had checked me over, she said that I’d have to come back the following week for the second op. I remember saying to her, ‘hell no, I’m not going home with cancer in my back. Can’t we do the op now?’. To which she replied, ‘it’s too much to do today after the news we’ve given you’. I replied, ‘you let me be the judge of that’. I soon had to leave the hospital and return the next week.
Fortunately, the results of the skin that they removed showed that the malignant melanoma had not spread. I had my lymph nodes checked which also showed no signs of cancer.
I had several other moles removed, which were either fine or had abnormal cells within them. That basically meant, they could have turned in to a malignant melanoma, had I not removed them.
My story of how I came to the hospital got around the department, and I became a bit of a talking point. People would say ‘you’re the girl from the cruise who had a stranger tell you to go and get checked’.
I was later told by my consultant that this man had saved my life. She said, had I not come in, they’d be dealing with a far more aggressive and higher stage cancer. I’d have probably found a lump in breast which would have brought me in to hospital, implying that it would have spread through my body. This man was my angel. I tried so hard to find out information about him, as I wanted to buy him another cruise, but I never found out his identity.
I still have annual skin checks and study my own skin regularly. One of the first things we did when I was diagnosed was a body map. We took photos of my moles next to a ruler, and we’d use these pictures to compare the moles over time. If anything changed I would get straight back in touch with the doctor.
I have not been on one sun-bed since this, and I never will go on one again. I wear factor 50 if I’m out in the sun now, and I’ll try to ensure that I’m covered or in the shade in peak times. I have re-educated myself about my skin and how important it is to keep it safe.

How to protect yourself and Skin Cancer facts

Such an emotional story. How incredible for the stranger on the cruise to reach out. 
Before we dive deeper into how to protect yourself, let’s look at some facts for skin cancer awareness month.
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK
  • This disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK
  • There are over 16,000 cases of melanoma each year in the UK
  • WHO predicts that there will be around 19,500 cases of melanoma by 2025
  • Around 90% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) making the disease almost entirely preventable

Who’s at risk?

Really, anyone can be at risk. However, there are a few factors which can increase your risk factor. These include:

  • Having sunburn as a child 
  • Having more than 50 moles that are irregular shapes
  • People who work outside
  • If your family members also have it

Now we have covered the facts, what can we do to help prevent skin cancers?

There are ways to help lower your risk of skin cancers. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Don’t get sunburned.
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad- spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating. 
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.

The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends that you check your skin head to toe each month for any signs. If you notice any changes in your skin or moles then you should contact your GP as a first port of call. 

The takeaways for skin cancer awareness month 

It seems about the right time to treat yourself to a new sun hat, UV blocking sunglasses and a moisturiser with SPF of 15 or higher for everyday wear. 

Skin cancer diagnoses are rising each year. Be sun safe by seeking shade and covering up. You can get some fantastic tans in a bottle if that’s what you are looking for when you sunbathe!

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