'People don't realise how lethal the sun can be' - Parents of Sharon (33) who lost battle with melanoma eight months after wedding
A couple who lost their eldest daughter to skin cancer eight months after she walked down the aisle at her wedding have urged Irish people to take correct measures to protect their skin from the sun's damaging UV rays.
Bernie and Peter Rice from Leixlip in Kildare tragically lost their daughter Sharon (33) in 2008 following a two-year battle with melanoma, a skin cancer that develops in cells that produce pigment or melanin in the skin.
Sharon, an IT executive, first noticed that a mole on her leg had changed shape in 2006 and after seeking the advice of her GP was referred to a dermatologist who arranged to have the mole removed.
However after a biopsy, Sharon was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and underwent surgery to remove a large area of skin surrounding the area.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Sharon's mum Bernie said: "After that operation she seemed to be recuperating well. She got married that June, on the longest day of the year. I always remember it, her wedding anniversary only passed there the other day. They were getting ready to move into a new house the following November when she began to feel unwell again.
"She went into St James' and it was discovered that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in her thigh. She had an operation to remove those lymph nodes, but in January she was given the news that it had spread to her liver," said Bernie.
Although Sharon was determined in her battle against the disease, Bernie and Peter's eldest daughter sadly died in February, leaving behind her four siblings and her new husband.
Soon after Sharon's death, her mum and dad established the Melanoma Trust in her memory, determined to raise awareness about the most threatening type of skin cancer.
"Sharon was an extremely positive girl, she was so full of life. Sharon's positivity inspired us to start the Melanoma Trust because I know if she was here she would be raising awareness. She was so bright and intelligent. She had just gotten married and planned to have a family."
Alarming new figures released by the Irish Skin Foundation this week show that melanoma is becoming more and more prevalent.
More than a thousand Irish people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2014 - almost three times as many as in 1994, when 386 cases were documented.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds increase the risk of developing melanoma as it causes damage to skin cells' DNA, causing mutations.
Bernie said: "Irish people have this idea that the sun here isn't the same as it is abroad or that we don't get the same sun but of course we do. People don't realise that the UVA and UVB rays can come through the clouds and cause damage to our skin.
"People think that when their sunburn heals that's it, but the damage is still there. The thing people don't realise is that it can take years for the melanoma to reach the surface."
Consultant dermatologist and MOHS Micrographic Surgeon Dr Rupert Barry said Irish people have a perception that a nice colour is a sign of good health, but in fact it's the opposite.
The doctor, who works with the Irish Skin Foundation, believes fair Irish people underestimate their vulnerability to the harmful effects of the sun.
"Sun damage is cumulative. In a world where a tan is still often seen as a sign of good health, the truth is that a tan is a sign of damaged skin. It indicates that your skin has been working to defend itself against overexposure to UV radiation."
Since her daughter's death, Bernie has worked tirelessly to push forward the Sharon Rice O'Beirne Melonoma Trust and regularly give talks to teenagers about her daughter's illness.
"I give talks about Sharon in secondary schools, to try and get the message across to younger people about the damage that can be caused by the sun, but it needs to be a greater part of th curriculum. They are like sponges in their early years.
"The most damage is caused to our skin when we are young. If you think about it where do children spend most of their time... outside. That's why it's important to encourage awareness from the grassroots."
Bernie says although it was difficult to speak about Sharon at the beginning, so much good has come from sharing her experience with melanoma.
"Many years ago I went on a morning programme to speak about the Melanoma Trust and months later a survivor got in touch to say that she discovered she had melanoma after her 12-year-old son had seen the segment on telly. By doing things like this and talking about Sharon, you feel like you're doing good.
"I was in IKEA a few years ago and I heard this man talking about sun beds and how much he loved them. He was a fair guy and was quite moley. I didn't go as far as telling him Sharon's story but I did say I lost someone to skin cancer. I asked him did he know how lethal tanning beds were. At the end of the day, you can only do so much and you can only give people so much information."
The Irish Skin Foundation launches its Protect & Inspect Campaign today to help clarify and simplify how people can protect their skin and inspect it for symptoms of melanoma. The charity, which supports people with skin diseases, is sending a timely warning about the dangers of overexposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation ahead of the summer holidays. For more information visit irishskin.ie or www.melanomatrust.com
Symptoms of Melanoma
Melanomas tend to:
1) Be Asymmetrical
2) Have an irregular Border
3) Have multiple Colours
4) Have a Diameter greater than 6mm
5) Evolve, enlarge or change
Remember the five ‘Ss’ of sun safety
1) Slip on a t-shirt with a collar.
2) Slop on broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+, with high UVA protection, and water resistant if you intend to swim.
3) Slap on a hat with a wide brim.
4) Slide on sunglasses with UV protection.
5) Seek shade – particularly between 11am -3pm, when UV rays are strongest.