I have never been a person obsessed with tanning, in fact I have never used a sun bed in my life. As a teen, I would always sit in the shade on holiday and generally looked after my skin really well. I do have fair skin and light hair, so I was aware of the risks and was careful.
At the age of 21 I noticed a small mole on the back of my upper arm when I would stretch my arms up in a mirror etc and for some reason just thought it was odd. When I say small, it was probably 1mm in diameter but it was so dark that it almost looked black – which compared to my other moles was really abnormal. It would always be scabbed over and occasionally bled when I caught it. I asked my family and a couple of friends for an opinion and the general reaction I was getting would be “oh it’s nothing, it’s tiny.. don’t worry about it.”
One day I was at the doctors for another reason and just thought I would mention it on the end of my appointment. The doctor referred me to the dermatology clinic at the hospital. She didn’t seem too concerned but did it for precautionary reasons. Once there I met with a senior dermatology specialist. He did a dermoscope check and confirmed that I should probably have it removed so that they can test it.
About a month or so later, I had the mole removed under local anaesthetic which was pretty quick and easy, and left a 1cm scar on my arm. It didn’t bother me too much and I thought that was the end of it. I was called back in a couple of weeks later and taken into a room with around 5 members of staff and immediately knew it wasn’t good before I even got my results. They confirmed it was malignant melanoma and that I needed further tissue taking to see whether it had spread to my lymph nodes. Within 5 minutes, I was taken into a room where my mouth was swabbed for the operation and I had to strip down to my underwear so they could do a full body search. This was all a lot to take in within the space of 10 minutes, however I went into survival mode, and was just focusing on doing whatever needed to be done to get rid of it.
It was around 6 weeks later that I had the further tissue taken and it gives you a lot of thinking time in between which wasn’t great for my mental state. However, the procedure was fine overall and also done under local anaesthetic. I got the results that the tissue was clear and that the melanoma hadn’t spread which was amazing. I then had a checkup and full body scan every 3 months for a year following that. It’s now 6 years later and I’m always conscious and aware of the fact that I need to be careful in the sun, but I’m also not letting it rule my life and I think that’s important. I have a hefty scar on my arm but I don’t mind it, and it’s also a reminder of how strong my body was to beat it.
It’s scary being told you have cancer at the age of 21 but it’s made me stronger for sure. I now go for an annual check up at my local private hospital, mainly just to put my own mind at rest! I would say, if you’re ever unsure – just get it checked. You know your body better than anyone else and our intuition is often doing us a favour!
Thanks so much Rosie for sharing your story, it’s so important that Melanoma is brought into the light. It CAN and DOES happen to EVERY age group.