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.

One final link worth looking at is from the Skin Cancer Foundation. It dispels the myth of the healthy tan - it's a must read.

Thanks so much for joining me!

Anna x


An evening swim from New Grimsby to Samson

Hello and how are you doing? Have you been enjoying this brilliant sunny weather? The Isles of Scilly are looking resplendent under the brilliant summer sunshine at the moment. I'm including this map today to show you a wee swim I undertook last evening after work. The view from my office at New Grimsby looks directly down the channel towards Samson which is one of my favourite desert islands. Steve and I often take our boat there after work, he to sit on the beach and have a beer and me to swim off the beautiful white corner of sand where all the boats land and depart from. By the end of the day all the tripper boats have gone, taking the visitors back to their island of choice leaving Samson deserted once again. This is our time.

I'd spent most of day yesterday, staring into the distance, longing to be basking in the sunshine on Samson beach (see it in the centre of the photo - that slip of white sand on the island ahead), but work kept dragging me back to reality. We were almost at the close of business when I finally shared my idea with Polly - I wanted to swim to Samson. It's not far, maybe about a mile and half at the most, but that's far enough when I haven't done any open water swimming for a while. My shoreline swimming is a daily routine, but swimming along the beaches doesn't necessarily stretch me out of my comfort zone. 

I messaged Steve with the idea of a beer on Samson at the end of the day and he said yes, then I added that I was going to swim there. Fine was his response. At home I flurried about finding my wetsuit that hadn't seen the light of day for about two years. Earplugs was the next problem, as I'd dropped one of those into the sea the previous evening. A quick scrabble around in my swimming drawer and found my back up pair along with a new pair of goggles in case I needed them.

I squeezed into my wetsuit (heck, I was a bit slimmer last time I wore this!), slipped on my wetsuit boots and followed Steve down to the shore below our house. My heart was racing, panic sending adrenalin to surge through my system at the prospect of this long swim. Not just a long swim, but more the prospect of crossing the open water akin to crossing a busy road on the mainland. Not something you would do without due care and attention. The idea of Steve coming alongside me in this boat offers protection from any traffic. As it was, we encountered a couple of jet boats which tore past at speed leaving me bobbing about in their wash. 

Leaving the shoreline behind meant leaving the warmer eddies of water that linger across the sun-warmed sand and as I crossed the open water I felt the chill of the Atlantic sea. I thought about Ross Edgely as I was in the deeper water and the thing that came to mind was that he always had a song buzzing around his head by way of distraction from the long swim ahead. What came to mind for me was the little ditty of "Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream ..." and that helped to take my mind off the icy water coursing across the back of my neck. The slow beat of the song was the same rhythm as my rolling stroke and did indeed act as a fine accompaniment to the final push towards Samson.  

Steve had a great view from his vantage point.

Nearly there ...

Yay, I made it!

Anna x

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