The delivery of a malignant melanoma diagnosis age 26 felt like I had been kicked in the face (not for the first time in my life I'd had that feeling).
We've all read the articles about skin cancer awareness, highlighting the unsightly mole pictures and advising you to see a GP if you have one that changes shape or colour so when I was diagnosed with a MM it didn't follow the usual chain of events.
My first visit to see the GP was actually about something else but typical of me, I had saved up a couple of issues rather than go more than once. At the end of my appointment, I mentioned as a side issue the small red spot on my thigh. It wasn't itching but it was slightly raised and about 5mm in diameter. The GP didn't seem too concerned either and sent me away with some Canesten. Yes, you read that right. Some bloody thrush cream. Needless to say it didn't go away so when I went back about my other problem, I casually mentioned again that the thrush cream had not shifted the little red mark. He said he could refer me to the dermatologist to get it checked but neither of us were concerned at that point.
When my hospital appointment arrived, the consultant wasn't sure what it was but said she would remove it to be on the safe side and I went away with another appointment to have it removed. The procedure was done under a local anaesthetic but I am a little but squeamish and had worked myself up into a small frenzy and made the whole event worse than need be but I swear to this day my flesh smelt of burning sausages.
A couple of weeks later I went back for the results. Alone as I didn't think I had anything to worry about despite the obligatory leaflets that are placed in your hand at times like this. I'd waited over an hour past my appointment time and was wondering whether work would be sending the search party out for me at some point. At this point another patient went in before me and I had heard him say his appointment time was after mine, I thought someone was taking the piss so went and had a word with reception. She made the necessary enquiries and told me that the doctor wanted the specialist nurse there when she saw me, which was why there was a delay.
I sat back down and initially thought, "bloody marvellous, why does someone else need to muscle in on my appointment?" Then the cogs started turning and I started to panic as to what was going on. When I was finally called in, it felt like there was an army of people waiting for me and even someone hovering in the background with a cup of tea. That's when you know something is definitely wrong, when there is a brew being offered up. Typically British behaviour of providing a brew when everything is going tits up.
All I could hear was the word malignant. I could feel the bile rising up inside of me and the tears began to flow. I was asked whether they could call someone in from the waiting room to be with me. No, because this fool had stupidly turned up on her own. Nobody to support me and a million thoughts rushing around in my head. Would I need chemo? Would I die? being a couple of them.
I was told that I would need a further operation, a wider excision to ensure that they had removed all traces of the MM and at that point they would know what would need to be carried out next.
Breaking the news to my family and friends was difficult and I know some people didn't treat it with the severity afforded to other cancer diagnoses such as breast or lung. Others didn't know what to say to me and treated me like I was already six feet under.
The wider excision was a bigger operation and my left was left looking like a deep valley and I was embarrassed about showing my legs in public for a long time - I still am but for different reasons.
Fortunately for me, the tests revealed it had not spread further and not into my lymph nodes, which wouldn't have been such a positive outcome. This was 15 years ago and I am thankful for the NHS team that have monitored me periodically since that time. It was also before we used to Google everything and if I had, I'd have probably treated myself like I was six feet under as the measurement of the MM suggests that I'm lucky to still be here.
Most people want to know whether I was a slave to a sunbed or tropical holidays and yes I had used tanning beds but not excessively so. My first holiday abroad wasn't until I was 18 so I don't think that is the cause either. Studies suggest that a combination of these, genetics and skin colouring are all factors and maybe it was just bad luck on my part.
There is more awareness about the dangers of not protecting your skin and how deadly skin cancer can be and that can only be a good thing. I am now the one who wears the factor 50 and lathers the children in it as I wouldn't want them to suffer skin damage especially as early protection of skin is vital.
My advice to anyone is not to take any chances in the sun or tanning beds, it's simply not worth it and any blemish or mole that appears or changes shape, get it checked out, not just the brown ones.
It may just save your life.