Every time I sat down to go to the toilet I saw it. It was a brown mole about 2mm in width, on the top of my left thigh. Over time I noticed that it had tripled in size, become irregular in shape and had developed black dots inside it. I had been to the doctor twice before when I had noticed it looking bigger. Both times my GP had told me it was fine. I wanted to believe him, but my gut told me otherwise. My grandmother had just passed away, which reminded me that we aren’t all indestructible the way we think we are. This brush with my mortality prompted me to ask my GP about it again. It’s funny, I just felt like something wasn’t right.
I went to my GP for the third time, when he finally acknowledged my concern and wrote a referral to a specialist. Upon inspection of the mole, the specialist immediately agreed that something needed to be done. He scheduled another appointment for the following week to remove the mole and have it tested. I was very nervous about the thought of going back to the specialist! At this stage, my fears were not so much about what could be wrong, it was more about having the needle. Let’s just say that me hating needles is a gross understatement!
The specialist was very understanding about my fear of needles and let me hold up a magazine in front of my face so I wouldn’t see what was happening. As I left, the specialist explained that he didn’t see much of a problem with it but it would be sent away to be tested. He would see me for another appointment the following week. The specialist explained that he removes a lot of suspect moles, he would rather be vigilant and remove anything suspicious. In the unlikely case it is something sinister, he would have saved a life. Who cares about a scar if you get to stay alive?
Four days later I received THAT call. The specialist telling me to come in the next day. My stomach dropped. This didn’t sound right and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going on. That overnight wait felt like forever! Thankfully, my mum came with me for moral support. The specialist sat us down and explained to me that it was actually a melanoma. I would need to have surgery to ensure that all of it was removed and that I would need two weeks off work. It is crazy, but it wasn’t until the specialist said ‘two weeks off work’ that I thought it might be serious. The surgery was booked for the following week at Christo Road Private Hospital.
On my way home from the specialist I called my fiancé at work to break the news. He was a little shocked, but held it together for me. When I look back on it, I think it was harder for him and my family than on me. You always think you will be OK.
I got home and wanted to research everything I could on melanoma. Public Service Announcement: do NOT ‘Google’ medical facts and take them as gospel! You will only scare yourself BIGTIME!
The surgery went well and the melanoma was removed successfully. I was told by the specialist that it had only gone under the skin by 0.03mm. It was also a slow-growing melanoma, I am so thankful for that.
Now for the real reason I wanted to share my story with you. Since I have had my melanoma removed, I have had two people I know lose their young lives to melanoma. Gone too soon. It just isn’t fair to that they missed out on living the rest of their lives! And so heartbreaking for their families and friends left behind. I was lucky!
So why did I get a melanoma?
I had no family history of melanoma. So, why me?
I loved to look tanned, like most Aussies do, but my skin is incredibly fair. Wearing fake tan when I was younger wasn’t such a good look, you looked orange and usually smelled like wee. I thought I was doing the right things. I never went to the beach just to sunbake and I started working at quite a young age so I spent a lot of time on weekends inside protected. When I was in my teens, I would sit in the school quadrangle at lunch and recess with my girlfriends gossiping. I would slightly hitch up my skirt and we would ‘tan’ our legs.
Through my early twenties, I went through phases of going to the solarium. It made me feel good, it made me feel more attractive and more confident. I reasoned with myself that because I didn’t actually burn like I did in the sun, I couldn’t possibly be doing any damage. I was VERY wrong.
I still like to look tanned but there are so many options now to get the same effect without the damage to your skin. No tan is worth your life. I know that now.
Whether it was sunning my legs at high school or going to the solarium, or even a mixture of both, I was doing the damage. Tanning is skin cells in trauma and it is the Ultra Violet (UV) rays that do the damage. You don’t even have to get badly sunburnt to damage your skin. It is the cells below the surface of the skin that suffer the permanent damage. This includes exposure on seemingly ‘safe’, cool or cloudy days. This myth needs debunking! UV rays can be high, even when the sky is overcast. Protect your skin EVERY day, not just on hot, sunny days!
I am now happily married to a great guy named Brett (who is always there to help with my tanning experiments) and have two beautiful children. Layla is eight years old and Koby just turned two. I am one of the lucky ones and I know it. I am going to live my life to the fullest for the friends I have lost.
Please walk away from reading this knowing that UV radiation is what does the damage and that solariums are definitely a no go! And if you are ever unsure about something, or something doesn’t feel right, see someone as soon as you can. It is amazing how in touch we all are with our own bodies. Sometimes you just know!
In memory of Leanne Mc Dermott & Scott Polglase