Monday 20 August 2018

'I got the all-clear but five months later I had melanoma' - Irish woman (23) urges people to get checked

Emma Alford says people should get a professional skin check if they notice an unusual mole on their skin.
Emma Alford says people should get a professional skin check if they notice an unusual mole on their skin.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A 23-year-old woman who was diagnosed with melanoma earlier this year has urged people to get their skin checked, no matter their age.

Emma Alford (23) noticed a mole on her right shoulder last year – some five months after she’d been given the all-clear at a previous skin check - that turned out to be cancerous.

“I got my skin checked last year in May and then I just saw a mole come up. I saw it for three months and I left it, and eventually I thought it’s better to get it checked than to be living in ignorance.”

“I went to a skin doctor in November and he just thought the mole on my right shoulder looked weird, and he referred me to a surgeon in Blackrock Clinic.”

“I knew from my first appointment that they thought it was what it was. It’s not what you want to hear but I was told to only google positive things about it, and I saw someone who was stage 4 and she was saying to get it checked early, and I tried to remember that I was lucky to get it caught early.”

In 2014 as many as 1,041 people were diagnosed with melanoma in Ireland. Cases of melanoma have almost trebled in the last 20 years.

Ireland has highest rate of deaths in Europe from aggressive skin cancer.

The Irish Skin Foundation, an Irish charity working for people with skin conditions, says all GPs can refer “query skin cancerous cells” to dermatology clinics for fast track appointments.

It says that “melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, including areas that are protected from the sun”.

“It is important to be familiar with your own skin so that you will notice any changes. The majority of melanomas are detected by the person affected themselves, or their partners,” it adds.

“Ideally you should inspect your skin once a month. Check the whole of your body from head to toe. Undress completely.”

Emma says that after her melanoma was removed, she had to go back for another surgery again.

“After the first surgery the melanoma itself was gone, but they need to have a larger margin of the good skin around it gone as well, to be sure that they’ve gotten all of it, so in February the surgeon did a wide-local excision and a lymph node biopsy.”

“When I went to get my stitches out they told me that I had the all-clear.”

Emma, who has dark hair and fair skin, has always been careful to protect her skin in the sun, and says age is also no barrier for melanoma.

“I always wore sun cream and I never sat in the sun, I never really liked the sun. I watch my skin, I take good care of it.”

“Everyone thinks that it’s to do with constant sun damage over time, but it takes only one or two times to damage the skin.”

“Obviously I’m 24 and it’s seen as quite an old person’s disease. You think just because you’re not in the at-risk age group that it won’t happen to you.”

It was her Dad's proactiveness that spurred her to get her own skin check, she said.

“My Dad has a lot of moles and got a lot of them removed and they’ve always come back clear.”

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