Sorry to get all serious on you, but I wanted to share a frightening thing that happened on New Year’s Eve 2013. My wonderful, honest friend Em and I were getting ready to party and sharing a smallish mirror. She just happened to be standing behind me as I was fiddling with my unusually straight hair. She looked at the back of my ear and said ‘Ooh. Do you know you have a mole on your ear?’
I didn’t know I had a mole on my ear. And this one was much, much bigger than all my other many freckle-style moles which are mostly medium brown. This one was about 4mm across and really black.
I started panicking there and then, I had a horrible feeling as I looked at it that it was a nasty one. I had heard about melanoma a few times, as a dear friend of my Mum’s had died at 27 of melanoma.
As soon as my doctor’s surgery re-opened, the GP took one look at it, and got me in to the big hospital’s dermatology centre and two days after that it was removed. Total time from discovery to getting the bloody thing off = 5 days. Amazing.
After it was analysed, which only took 10 days, they came back to say it was indeed a melanoma – but a very, very thin one. It’s called a melanoma in-situ, which means it was sitting on the very surface. No penetration of the skin, no spreading to organs/lymph nodes. Phew.
They had me back in to do a wider excision of 5mm all around the site of the first excision. And because it’s on my ear-back, they couldn’t stitch it up, so it had to heal as an open wound from the inside up. Which meant nearly four months of dressing changes, awkward hair washing and no swimming. But what a lucky escape?! What if Em hadn’t said anything? What if none of my other friends or family spotted it before it was too late?
And then I started to worry, to panic, to obsess over sunlight touching me. I remember a very miserable February walk – long sleeves covering my hands, a huge hat, feeling terrified that the faint warmth of the early Cornish spring light would be making my skin change and grow more dangerous and potentially life-threatening moles.
I began to read everything I could about melanoma recurrence, given that Cornwall has such a high rate of skin cancer, higher even than Australia – I questioned my decision to move to this beautiful endless-summer outdoorsy place. How would I cope with work lunches at the sunny table in the pub garden? What about holidays with friends? Will I have to sit on my own in the shade while everyone else basks in the sunshine? A couple of weeks ago my supportive and understanding but sun-basking and piss-taking family nicknamed me ‘melanoma loner’. You have to laugh though right?! (Good job they didn’t say that to me a few months ago.)
The mole discovery and removal was nine months ago now. I’m over the constant worry. I no longer have a sinking feeling when I wake up and look out at blue skies. I’ve got my excitement back about travelling in warm countries.
You see, it’s all about management. I’ve got Factor 50 sunscreen from trustworthy brands coming out of my ears. I’ve even found a fantastic factor 100 which is so light, not pasty white, and comfortable to wear all day. (Which I totally recommend to anyone sensitive to the sun I’ve got the sporty spray and the cream which I use on my face, neck and hands – both by Neutrogena, but I think it comes from America as it takes ages to arrive when I order it). I have invested in some oversized shirts so I can roll down my sleeves and button up the neck when I’m outdoors. I’ve bought a few wide brimmed sun hats, which festoon the parcel shelf of my car so I’m always ready. (The best hats so far are from Peacocks. For real. But I do have a massive head so it’s tricky.)
And I’ve decided that 10-15 mins a day outside of the hours of 11-4pm on my face and arms will give me all the vitamin D I need. And every month when I give the dog her lungworm treatment, that is also Skin Check Day for me.
So here I am, worrying less, panicking not at all. Changing my lifestyle to avoid the sun is easier when you have a plan. And on our honeymoon? Book reading in the shade (first time for everything) and doing lots of interesting activities rather than sitting on the beach all day will be great. I’m looking forward to it…
Do you have a similar story you want to share? Please leave me a comment below if so x