Monday, April 8, 2013

A warning

I've been lucky enough to write some stories recently about important health topics - melanoma and breast cancer, and both have made me hyper aware of my own need for care and vigilance.

I trained for marathon through winter last year, and by the end of my training, my back looked like this.

I ran in the rain, and clouds, and sometimes sun, and I would diligently cover my face, and would put a slick on my arms and shoulders and as far down my back as I could reach, in a rush.  I wore a visor, and I wore sunglasses, and I thought I was doing ok.  But that photo isn't ok.  That is sun damage.  The thing about sun damage that I didn't know is that it is cumulative, it builds on what damage you've already done.  The slate isn't wiped clean after each incident, it goes onto the tally.  The longer your tally, the more chance that you may develop a skin cancer.  And the body in it's infinite amazingness, remembers.  A sun burn experienced years ago is still tucked in the body's memory banks,  adding to that tally.

This is a bit sombre, and possibly a little overdramatic but not much.

And as I wrote and researched my article, I got an almighty wake up call.  I have olive skin, when I was a kid, my parents would watch as I got as "brown as a berry".  I don't have many moles, and thankfully I haven't had too many instances of serious sunburn (apart from those teenage years where my sun "protection" was baby oil *shudder*). So my risk factors were low.

But the young guy I interviewed for my story had had a mole that he had removed purely for cosmetic reasons, but which turned out to be a melanoma.  And his life had changed.

I watched a mole of my own change a little.  Hmmm.  And an appointment was made, where the doctor shook his head smiling.  "That's just a "insert hard to pronounce and spell medical word", that's nothing at all and is completely normal."

With relief, I relaxed as he continued his skin check.  And went straight to a little mole I've had my whole life.  "Now this one, this one could be trouble".  He looked, he flicked through text books, looked at pictures, then looked at my mole again.  He made me look at it, even though I said "I've honestly had that my whole life and I'm pretty sure it's always looked like that".

To the naked eye without a magnifying glass or textbook.

"Moles can change", he said.  And that hadn't occurred to me, I thought a "changing mole" was a radically different look, bleeding, colour, visible to all.  But not every change is obvious.

So I had my dodgey mole removed, and it turned out to be fine.  But that's because we caught it now.  "These type of moles turn to melanoma's if not removed", he told me.  And I believed him because I checked Dr Google when I got home and saw words that shouted out "close call" to me.

I know mole removal is common place, as is dodgey moles, nothing moles, I know people who have moles removed regularly without drama nor whinging.  This story is SO not about me and my mole.  This story is about vigilance, and taking precautions, and getting checked often and professionally.

So, when was the last time you had a skin check.  Truthfully. Was it "never ago" like me?

The story I wrote about melanoma opened my eyes and could very well have saved me a lot of things in my future including my life. Maybe this blog post may do the same to you.

Put "skin check" on your To Do list if you haven't had one recently.



  1. Done. I got what I thought was an itchy bite checked after a couple of months and it turned out to be the start of a skin cancer. The GP froze it off but I need to go back and get it done again. And I've got olive skin and covered in moles! Unfortunately we weren't really aware of the dangers in the early '80's and all used the 'oil'.

    1. It's true, we're paying the price for our vanity back then, thank goodness our kids won't be in the same boat at our age, if today's sun care vigilance has anything to do with it! Thanks Becci.

  2. This is a great reminder that it's so important to keep an eye on these things. A breast self-examination saved my life, and I was just so lucky to catch it, because I never regularly checked. I have a strange little dot on my thigh that wasn't there before, so I'm going to get my doctor to check this, now that I've read this post.

    1. Good stuff Shelly, I'm a bit of a serial self examiner now after hearing stories like your own. We're responsible for our own health and only us, it's not our GP's, or our partners responsbility to remind us. Our life, our responsibility. Good luck with your dot x

  3. Scary stuff, it's great that you are sharing. Rachel x