Just like most girls my age, my younger years were spent at the beach and lazily applying sun protection. From 19-21 I also started using tanning beds a few times a year. I would bake myself stupid started swapping out my SPF for tanning oils during my travels and just generally didn’t give skin cancer any thought, despite my family history with skin cancers and my parents always nagging me about it! I often think to myself, if only I could warn my younger self about the damage I was causing to my skin and health at the time. So now I write this piece so all of our future selves can rest easy knowing that we are more wiser now when it comes to achieving a tan.
Basal Cell Carcinoma’s (BCC’s) are the most common form of skin cancer and mainly occur on the face and neck. I had never even heard of them, have you?! I had no idea about the damage that they can cause - especially to the face and ears if left untreated.
My BCC first appeared in 2012 (age 25) and went undiagnosed for 2 years. I cannot believe that I was living my life blissfully unaware but they were so non descript. The one on my jaw area looked like a small discoloured patch of skin about the size of my pinky nail, and there was absolutely nothing to see on my eyebrow.
I only did something about these odd skin issues after they both started randomly bleeding. Even then it took me a long time to ask my GP what it was and when I finally did, on two occasions I was told it was most likely just dermatitis and nothing to worry about.
The random bleeding went on for about another year. I carried on thinking nothing of it until I went to my beautician for a facial just months before my wedding. She asked me about the patch on my jaw and said that she was very suspicious of it. She advised me to get a second opinion and go get it checked out ASAP. I am so happy I listened to her!
The following week, I went to a new GP, got a referral to a Dermatologist, had a biopsy and days later I was diagnosed with 2 x Basal Cell Carcinomas. One infiltrating (jaw) which required immediate surgery to be removed, and one non-infiltrating (eyebrow) which was treated with a topical cream over a 2 month period.
Since the affected area on my jaw was only small (about 1cm), I was naive enough to assume that this would be fine and would only require a very small incision with minimal scarrng, however, my plastic surgeon had to cut through either side and remove the cancerous cells from underneath and around it so the incision, and scar, turned out to be significantly larger than an inch long. An infection in my wound also meant my scar didn’t heal as nicely as it should have but now, nearly 3 years on, I am only just starting to feel happy and confident with it’s progress.
Due to my jaw BCC being an infiltrating BCC and it’s proximity with my lymph nodes I was then referred onto The Melanoma Institute with the possibility of requiring radiation treatment. My doctors were not sure that the surgery had successfully removed all of the cancerous cells and had infiltrated further down my throat. Due to the fact that I was getting married in a couple of months and my young age (by this stage I was 27), we decided to not go ahead with radiation treatment and to instead closely monitor my neck for any changes or growths. I was required back for check ups every 6 months for 2 years and eventually cleared for no further treatment.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones as in terms skin cancers, a BCC is probably the best you can get, however due to where they are likely to pop up, people (especially young girls) don’t realise is that they can be disfiguring. My scar is hidden under my jaw but the damage to my face could have been a lot worse had it been in a more prominent spot. All that damage just to be tanned.
I now have my skin regularly checked, have bought a SPF rated umbrella and I am religious about sun protection. I still go to the beach as much as ever (it’s my happy place) and I get outdoors but I now try to limit my sun exposure, especially during the hottest parts of the days or just stay parked under my umbrella and of course apply Luna Bronze for my tanning needs.