Michele Slane (41) lives in west Belfast with husband Francis and her two children Neil (22) and Kirsty (10). Michele was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2010 and now warns others of the dangers of sunbeds and not staying safe in the sun. She says:
“From about the age of 17 until 30 I used sunbeds on a regular basis. I didn’t use them every week, but would have used approximately two hours over the course of a year. As my skin never burned, I believed I had a dark skin type so never used a sun cream higher than factor 10 when abroad. Normally I would have used factor 2 oils and, for a few days, had no sun protection factor at all.
“I was working in the Haematology department at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, when one of the consultants overheard me talking about using sunbeds. He took me aside and pointed out the dangers of my habit and even brought in some photos of skin cancer to show me. I felt for the people who had been affected but it didn’t put me off or change my attitude to tanning – like many young people, I thought that skin cancer was something that happened to others.
“While on holiday in Turkey in August 2010, I noticed a black mole on the top of my right thigh. I thought about getting it checked on my return home but quickly forgot about it. Around mid-October my thigh started to get increasingly itchy so I went to see my GP who referred me to Dermatology.
“By early November I was told I had Stage 2 malignant melanoma. It was a huge shock – especially to my family. After reading up about malignant melanoma I realised that, because it had been caught early, with surgery the outcome should be good.
“The treatment went well and I recovered without needing plastic surgery, any radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But the consultant did stress that it could have been a very different story. Initially my progress was checked at out-patients clinics every three months, then every six months before I was discharged late last year.
“Aside from the impact on your health, skin cancer affects you in ways you don’t even think of. For the last three years getting any form of life insurance or travel insurance has been near impossible – something that will always crop up time and time again in the future for me.
“Needless to say my outlook on tanning has changed considerably. I’m now extremely conscious of protecting my skin in the sun as are my family – they’re attitudes have changed for the better too.
“Whenever I hear of someone going for a sunbed session, I’m the one warning about them about the dangers now. But like I did all those years ago, young people think that it won’t happen to them. That is why it is really important to change attitudes to tanning, to encourage people to pay attention to their skin and if they notice any changes to go to their GP to get it checked out. I’m so glad that it wasn’t too late for me.”
There are a number of top tips to increase the chances of keeping skin healthy and young looking:
- Seek shade and avoid prolonged exposure when the sun is at its strongest – generally 11am to 3pm
- Cover up in the winter sun with sunglasses and a hat that protect against UV rays
- Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection and 4 star for UVA protection
- Apply liberally 30 minutes before going out in the sun and don’t forget your head, neck and ears. Re-apply at least every two hours
- Check regularly for any changes to moles
- Take extra care with children as their skin is often more sensitive and easily burned.
If you are concerned about any aspect of cancer call the Cancer Focus NI free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the nurses on firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also see more info here or at www.careinthesun.org