Monday, 25 August 2014

My Experience with Skin Cancer

Please don’t joke about skin cancer. This should be an obvious thing to say, and I shouldn’t really have to ask, but whilst on holiday my (now ex) fella quoted South Park (or Family Guy – one of the two) in which they made a joke about sitting outside sunbathing with the words ‘I’m just getting me some cancer’.

Skin cancer (or, to use its proper name malignant melanoma) is a condition most often (although not exclusively) caused through skin damage due to over exposure to the sun. Everyone I know has a mole on their body somewhere, and this is usually the first sign of skin cancer. Most of the time, these moles are benign, but they can turn cancerous. You should take photos of all moles on you and monitor them for any changes in shape or size (particularly if they stop being round), if they form lumps, or they have an uneven tone (particularly if they have dark patches). If you are worried, speak to your GP, and they can examine them more closely. Despite the story I’m about to tell you, getting your skin cancer spotted early gives you the chance of the best possible outcome, and GP’s are very good at their jobs (and their equipment has improved vastly over the past twenty years).

This is my story about my relationship with skin cancer.

My dad has always had a lot of moles on his body, and he did visit the doctors on a number of occasions to get them looked at. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma – some of the moles on his back had turned, mutated and become cancerous. My dad isn’t the kind of guy to walk around with his top off, but when he was younger he would. A couple of bad burns in your childhood can have devastating results later in life. Remember, your skin never forgets.

Despite having the moles removed, sadly the cancer had already spread into his lymphnodes (found in your glands, they are designed to attack illness). He had to undergo serious surgery to have all the infected lymphnodes removed from one side of his body. He was in hospital for a number of days, and had lost a lot of strength for several months after the operation. He still has to wear a compression sleeve to counteract swelling from fluid retention, and he has to be very careful whenever he is ill, as his immune system is permanently damaged.

My story is a lucky one. Dad didn’t have to undergo any kind of chemo or radio therapy. He is now cancer free and has been in remission ever since the operation. He still has to go for check-ups at the hospital every 3-6 months, and he has been left with big scars down his side and over his back.

What I’m trying to say with all this is that skin cancer isn’t a joke, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Getting a sunburn isn’t funny, and not wearing suncream isn’t cool. Just because you may not see the immediate effects now (other than painful red skin or a strong tan) doesn’t mean that you’ve escaped permanent, potentially life threatening, damage.

The paler you are, the more easily you burn, but just because you might have an olive complexion doesn’t mean you’re immune to the effects of the sun, so be careful out there.

I know summer is drawing to a close, but every time it’s out and shining, make sure you put on a bit of cream. At the very least wear moisturiser or make-up with SPF in it. Make sure you’re protected against UVA and UVB, and cover up at midday. If you’re on holiday at altitude or nearer to the equator, the sun is stronger there too, so be extra careful.

I’m sorry about the mini lecture, but the joke made on holiday really shocked me – I couldn’t believe someone so close to me even thought about joking about skin cancer. (I should point out that the joking in no way lead to our break up.)

Lighter hearted content will resume in my next post – probably a beauty post or book review. Until then, stay safe.

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