I used to love tanning, but now I want everyone to be careful this summer. With the recent heatwave, lots of people seem to be taking the opportunity to get outside and top up their tan.
When I was younger, I would have been one of them. I loved tanning - I went away on lots of holidays in the sun, and would regularly sit out all day with no protection.
By the time I was 15 I’d started using sunbeds regularly, and even though I burned badly over the years, it wasn’t until my mid 30s I started thinking about changing my behaviour.
Then, in 2004, I took up running which was when I noticed a freckle, which turned into a small lump on my chest. I ignored it at first, putting it down to irritation from my sports bra. But when I went on holiday to Thailand in 2006, it started changing, going gooey, and then turned black.
I remember searching the internet for skin cancer, and seeing pictures in my doctor’s surgery, but I still didn’t think it could happen to me. However, a couple of months later I was visiting my doctor and realised I’d better get it checked.
I was immediately referred to a specialist, who told me I had skin cancer. I was scheduled to have surgery, but it was a bigger procedure than we first thought, as the cancer had attached itself to my muscle. They also found another lesion on my back in the process which turned out to be cancerous.
After that things looked good until early the following year, when I found a suspicious lump on my head. This was also diagnosed as cancer, and I had to have a major operation, where they took a muscle graft from my stomach to fill the gap. While I haven’t had any major surgery since then, earlier this year I realised that what I’d thought was a cold sore wasn’t going away. My GP sent my back to hospital and I had a lesion successfully removed.
Even though I’m still being monitored, I feel back to my old self – my friends even tell me I’m glamorous now, and I’m enjoying taking pride in my appearance again. However, the scars from my previous operations will always be a reminder of what happened and I’m now extremely careful in the sun.
I always cover up with clothes where I can, apply sunscreen to anything not covered, and aim for the shade between 11am and 3pm – when the sun is at its strongest. My story isn’t uncommon, and overexposure to UV radiation causes almost nine in 10 melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK which makes it even more important for people - especially those who burn easily - to remember to stay safe this summer.
Justine is supporting NIVEA SUN and Cancer Research UK’s sun awareness campaign, which offers simple advice on how to enjoy the summer while protecting your skin. For more information, visit: https://www.nivea.co.uk/advice/cancer-partners-uk-sun-safety-campaign