My skin cancer journey


Hi there!

Today's feature has been written to coincide with Skin Cancer Awareness Month 2020 which runs from the 1st to 31st of May. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and educate the public about the ways to help prevent skin cancer. UV exposure from the sun is one of the main causes of skin cancer and also one of the most preventable. This campaign hopes to reduce instances of skin cancer and increase the likelihood of early detection through education. 

During the month, people who have been affected by skin cancer are encouraged to get involved by sharing their stories on all forms of social media using the hashtag #MySkinCancerJourney, and everyone is invited to share information about sun safety, skin cancer prevention and early detection with friends and family. 





These photos are taken from my trip to Cape Town in January 2019 when I was oblivious of the dangers of skin cancer. I'm an every day sea swimmer and have always thought that my half hour in the ocean would be helping me to not only keep fit, but also get my daily dose of vitamin D. Oh what a healthy bunny I thought I was!





Fast forward 6 months and I had been referred to a skin specialist as a result of some patches which I thought were eczema. The itchy, flaky sores had been quietly growing and spreading across an area of my upper back for what may have been months if not years. I was questioned about my sun exposure, in particular about sun bathing, which I rarely do. On further questioning it turned out that my daily swim affording me of my dose of vitamin D was in fact far too much for my fair skin. Ten minutes maximum is all I ought to subject myself to and even then, just showing my forearms for that length of time would be perfectly adequate. Instead, the sun's rays hitting my skin through the water were effectively intensifying the sun damage. The diagnosis was Basal Cell Carcinoma, the least dangerous form of skin cancer, but it can still be disfiguring if left untreated. In November I travelled to the mainland to have the two deeper lesions cut out.





By December the wounds had already started to heal nicely and 6 weeks after the surgery the stiches were removed. The other patches were being treated at home with a chemical cream.


Another month down the line and both kinds of treatment were looking similar and healing well. I had been banned from the sea after surgery and missed almost 16 weeks of swimming thereafter. Staying out of the water ensured that I didn't pick up any bacteria in these open wounds. During that time I resorted to lunchtime beachside walks to get my daily dose of ozone.





Another month later and the wounds had healed and the skin was settling down again.



And now this is how the area has mended. The excision has left me with little mounds of skin that are prone to itching, but I can only think that's still part of the healing journey.


This was my pre-cancer norm as far as swimwear was concerned. A swimsuit and not a jot of suncream. Pah, half an hour in the early morning sun was no risk at all - oh what a fool I was!






And now for me, cover-up is the name of the game. I've invested in some swimwear to protect the vulnerable areas where I've had treatment. I use factor 30 suncream on my legs, but I'm not confident that I could reach all of my back and get full sun protection. If you're a regular sea swimmer or any other outdoor swimmer, then do think about your own skin type and if you're doing enough to keep yourself sun-safe. The past six months have made me reconsider if it's more important to wear a natty little cossie or to guard my skin from further damage.

What I hope you may take away from this is that even in the UK we can get skin cancer. My daily sun exposure is what accelerated my own condition, but I would advise anyone who exercises outdoors to take note of any moles or skin blemishes that become a permanent feature. Take photos so that you can monitor any changes in size, shape or condition of the area and if you notice anything different I would urge you to visit your GP. I know of two friends who had moles on their legs that turned out to be melanomas. One of them had surgery and has fully recovered and the other is still undergoing treatment two years after diagnosis. 

The other thing I've learnt through the Sun Awareness website is the danger of using sunbeds as they too can cause skin cancer. If you want to sunbathe, then do so safely using at least a factor 30 and reapply after swimming. Avoid the midday sun and don't allow yourself to get burnt. And follow the advice of Slip, slap, slop for young children - slip on a tee shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sun cream. Our recent Stay Safe advice must surely extend to our sun awareness too, now that we're on the brink of summer. Last of all, please check out The Big See website to find out how you can protect yourself from this form of cancer which kills two people every hour.

Thanks so much for joining me!

Anna x

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22 comments

  1. A very timely warning, especially as the weather is pleasant enough at the moment to spend time outdoors. I had a colleague who died from melanoma, in her mid 40's. She had lovely auburn hair and fair skin, and said she used to sunbathe regularly when younger. She was much missed by her family, friends and colleagues.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Jaycee. What a sad tale that is and a terrible loss for everyone involved. These stories, even mine, often seem so abstract, that people often think "that doesn't apply to me". Yes, my red hair and pale skin put me at high risk, but somehow I didn't see the risks despite having already had one patch of BCC removed from my face some years ago. You can bet that the lesson has been learnt now.

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  2. A very important warning. I've not really been bothering to put any suncream on when out but I really should.

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    1. You and I both have very fair skin don't we? I've replaced my face cream to one with SPF as well as using suncream whenever I go out for walks.

      Take care x

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Anna! That must have been really scary. I am not a sunbather at all, but often get caught out without sun cream when working in the garden and out walking. I must do better. So glad to hear yours was caught early and you are now swimming safely! xxx

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    1. I used to sunbathe way back in the day when we didn't know any better. Now I'm much more aware and slather on suncream before I go outside for any length of time. It's just about creating new habits isn't it?

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  4. Good for you for sharing this, Anna! My dad and grandmother both had skin cancers removed on their faces, and I have that same fair, freckled skin, so I'm super-careful about my sun exposure. I've actually not sunbathed since I was 17 years old, and I wear SPF 15 moisturizer on my face 365 days of the year, plus extra when I'm going to be outside for longer than 15 minutes. My more recent concern is to keep my tattoos covered up (the colour fades and they bleed) from the sun, so I'm very vigilant about keeping my skin protected.

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    1. Cheers Sheila.

      I've always noticed you talk about covering up with clothes to give you sun protection. I too have a SPF in my moisturiser as an extra barrier and add suncream when I know I'm going to be outside for any length of time.

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  5. Oh Anna!! I think your story, complete with vivid photos and thought provoking facts is a timely way for you to remind yourself and the rest of us just how important being informed of the sun danger is.
    My dad died of melanoma. He was 93 and very healthy otherwise. I think the major damage occurred during his time in the navy but he always "caught some rays" when he could.
    I'm so glad that you've been proactive and for the record, I love your cool new swim wear!! It's sexy! Be cautious about the backs of your legs. I've read that it's one of the likeliest spots for women to get skin cancer.
    I'm still following by the way,�� Love, Jude

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    1. I know that some of these images are a bit raw, but goodness that's the whole point - to make us all stop and think about the reality of the dangers of the sun. I have a friend who is battling with melanoma currently and it's not a happy position to be in. Sadly, years ago, we didn't realise the damage we were doing by catching some rays.

      I'll take extra care with the backs of my legs now that you've mentioned that.

      So lovely to know you're still out there x

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  6. thank you for sharing your story and own experience to encourage others to take care of themselves!. Glad that you've received a good medical attention and have recovered!
    I'm quite sensible and apply sunscreen everyday but many people around me consider that I'm overdoing it. But it's not excessive to be careful!
    besos & gracias

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    1. Thank you Monica.

      I think that the trend for a tan has a lot to answer for regarding the current skin cancer figures. I use fake tan to give myself some colour over the summer months which does away with the temptation to sit out in the sun for hours.

      And yes, you're right. It's not excessive to be careful x

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  7. Thank you for posting this really important information Anna. The graphic pictures are what’s needed to convey the nature of sun damage and the resulting risk of developing skin cancer.
    I have very fair skin and have always covered up, but we can get caught unawares and should always be vigilant about sun protection.
    I use fake tan on my legs and sometimes toeless tights if I’m going out somewhere special. That works for me.
    Stay safe; take care. X

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    1. Cheers Phyl. I suppose it all boils down to self-responsibility doesn't it? Also, we are constantly bombarded by imagery of tanned bodies as being healthy. For the past few years I've used fake tan to cover my pale Celtic skin and therefore I don't feel the need to sunbathe.
      Take care x

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  8. Thank you for posting and so glad that you pay attention to your body, something we all need to do. As you know, I've always worn hats in the sun but I don't use suncream because of the chemicals. Can you recommend one that is safe to use or am I just being ridiculous as per usual. And the swimming tops are an excellent step forward. Do you get them on line? I've never seen any in the shops. Love you darling girl. If I ever have any money again and it's safe to fly, I'll be back for a visit.
    xoxo

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    1. Hi Kathy - lovely to hear from you! I must admit that I just use a Boots own brand of suncream. I know what you mean about chemicals, but I think they represent less of a risk than skin cancer ...

      If you Google 'UV rash vests' you ought to find them over in the States too.

      It would be great to see you back on Tresco again. Let's all hope that life returns to something akin to normal again soon.

      Lots of love
      Anna xxx

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  9. Oh darling, my behaviour throws me right into the danger zone. I told you I had never been in the sun till I was 22. But after that I burnt very badly once and I have been hitting the tan beds ever since. I have always avoided the midday hours, usually skipped afternoon hours anyway. But... tan beds and never using sun protection...
    Once or twice a year my GP checks all spots on my body and sometimes removes one for further investigation. So far so good. But I am playing with fire. Time to change. Way overdue.
    Greetje

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    1. Oh dear Greetje! It does sound like you've been playing with fire indeed. Anyway, it's never too late to change the habits of a lifetime. Personally, I hate to lie on a sticky old sunbed and have only done it once - yeuch! You can get a very realistic tan out of a bottle nowadays. I use a daily cream which is a moisturiser and light tan all in one. I apply it after my shower and it gives a healthy glow without that terrible orange fake tan look.

      On the upside, at least you're having an annual check up from your GP. That may well have kept you safe, but maybe you ought to mend your ways.

      Take care x

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    2. I know. My behaviour stems from when I was in my early twenties and revealed my oh so very white legs to the world. Let's say, ifI walked along the water at the beach, people would look me up and down, then look at themselves and then smile with contentment. Compared to me they had a tan haha.

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  10. Hi Anna, so glad you got the surgery before lockdown and that its healed. Which make of moisturiser that gives a bit of colour that's not orange? Tessa xx

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    1. Hi Tessa. Yes I'm pleased that it's all healed and I'm able to get back in the sea again.

      The product I've used for the past couple of years is Garnier Body, Summer Body - light sunkissed look. It suits my sensitive skin too which is another good point. I tend to use it every second day with the alternate days using an normal body moisturiser to stop getting that streaky build up that can happen if you use a tanner every day. Good luck with that x

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  11. Oh Anna. I am so sorry to read this and so happy that there was a positive outcome to your story. I too am supposed to stay out of the sun from 8.30AM to 5PM (I have SLE) but don't listen to my doctor's recommendations very often. I've been fortunate, very fortunate, but perhaps I ought to stop playing russian roulette with my life, eh? HUGS SO MANY HUGS xoxoxo

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