Skin cancer awareness: It changes when the sun goes down
As part of our skin cancer awareness special, two melanoma patients, who admit knowing little about the disease and its effects before their diagnoses, discuss life after cancer
Published 19/07/2016 | 02:30
Aisling was a happy, busy working mum who was pregnant with her second child when she went on a team building session with her colleagues.
While in her more casual clothes, a colleague noticed a strange-looking mole at the top of her back. They told her it looked suspicious and that she should get it checked out.
Aisling had never noticed the mole as it was on her back and she had never checked her skin before. It was only when her colleague pointed it out that she realised how big it was.
She decided she would get her GP to look at it.
Aisling says: "I have pale skin with lots of moles but was wasn't aware of skin cancer or the importance of checking my skin regularly.
"As a child I definitely didn't have sun cream put on me as, back then, we just did not know about the dangers."
When Aisling's GP saw the mole, he thought it looked suspicious and referred her to a consultant dermatologist.
When the consultant performed tests on the mole and diagnosed her with melanoma - the most serious type of skin cancer - she said that she had absolutely no idea what it was.
"When the consultant told me I had melanoma, I asked him, 'Is that serious?'," recalls Aisling.
The mum of two had no idea that melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, that it can spread incredibly fast, and claims over 150 Irish lives each year.
"After I realised how serious it was, I felt sick to my stomach," says Aisling. "My world fell apart. I couldn't believe that I had the dreaded 'C' word. It didn't seem real that I actually had cancer.
"Because I was pregnant at the time, I had to wait a few months to find out if the cancer had spread. That was the hardest part. It was absolute torture.
"I cried every time I looked at my daughter because I was so scared that I would not see her grow up. I was also petrified for my son, who had not even been born yet.
"It is now six months later, and my son is here and happy and healthy.
"I had a wide local excision to remove the mole and the surrounding tissue to make sure that all affected cells are gone. Thankfully the cancer had not spread but I am still terrified of the sun. I am hoping that this fear will fade with time."
Read more: 15 ways to be sun smart
Aisling notes that as an adult, she was careful to use SPF 50 all the time.
However, many people do not realise that just one bad sunburn before you're 18 could increase your chances of skin cancer by half.
That is why it is important to always protect your skin, no matter what age you are. The damage you do to your skin as a young person can affect you later in life.
Aisling is now helping the Marie Keating Foundation to launch a Skintervention, reminding Irish people to look after their skin by being SunSmart.
She also hopes that people will check their skin regularly to look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma.
'I'm so lucky my brother noticed the mole on my ear'
John had heard of melanoma before he was diagnosed with the disease, but was not overly concerned that it might affect him.
He didn't think he would be prone to the disease since his complexion wasn't too pale. Furthermore, he didn't like sunbathing, and he had never used sunbeds.
John says: "I feel really lucky that my brother saw the mole on my ear as I would not have been able to see it myself in the mirror.
"He made me aware of it and said it looked funny and that I should have it looked at by the GP. I went straight away and the GP agreed that the mole did not look right and so I had it removed.
"Even while having the mole removed, I did not realise how serious things were. It was not until the mole was tested in the lab and the doctor told me that I had melanoma that I began to realise that my health was going to be seriously affected by this."
John had to have an operation to remove a piece of his ear to ensure all of the melanoma was removed.
The medical team was keeping him under close supervision and in follow-up checks, it was discovered that John had a benign tumour on his hip, which led to him having a hip replacement.
If John had not had the melanoma discovered on his ear, this hip tumour would never have been discovered and his prognosis could have been more serious.
The teacher, from Co Carlow, says he considers himself very lucky.
John is helping the Marie Keating Foundation with its #Skintervention campaign as he wants people to know the importance of checking their skin regularly.
* For more information on the ABCDE signs of melanoma and how to be sun smart, see our 15 Ways to be Sun Smart
To get involved in the SunSmart campaign, see mariekeating.ie/spotthedifference/
Health & Living