Finding out I had a melanoma aged 28

My name is Laura Cooper, I’m 29. When I was 28 I was given the news I had melanoma.

I had heard of melanoma but honestly never really knew what it was and I certainly didn’t know how serious it was. I didn’t know it was a type of skin cancer and I didn’t think it was something I would ever have to worry about.

Growing up I’ve always had quite a few moles, mainly on the front and back of my body with the odd one on my arms and legs. I was so used to them I forgot I even had them most of the time, I definitely didn’t think that I should be taking extra care of my skin.

My teen use of sunbeds and love of sunbathing

In my late teens I started using sunbeds and at the time I didn’t think I overused them, I probably used them for a couple of years or less about twice a week. I never protected my skin before using sunbeds.

In 2014 I moved to Dubai for work and fully took advantage of my days off in the sun. I have to admit I wasn’t always sun safe and often used oil as low as SPF 15 to make sure I got that tan I loved. Sometimes I didn’t use anything at all and as a result of that I often ended up burnt.

In 2015, after meeting my now fiancé, I moved to Australia. The sun there was on another level, I think I got burnt the first day and I only went for a walk. Our apartment was directly opposite the beach, so again I’d spend most of my free time there without really protecting my skin.

Laura with her fiancé Scott

I burnt my skin a lot in Australia and even once had very bad sun stroke, I was ill for a week and wearing clothes was almost unbearable. The sun was very strong.

A changing mole changed everything

About three years ago I went to the doctors for a mole I noticed had changed. Luckily, it wasn’t cancerous but the doctor said if I’d left it longer, it would more than likely turn cancerous – so it was removed. I thought that’d be the end of that and didn’t think much more about it.

My partner Scott and I welcomed our first baby in March last year (2018) and while I was breastfeeding one of the midwives noticed a mole on my left breast and said I should get it checked… Had this been at any other time I might have brushed it off but, because I just given birth I wanted to be on the safe side. I had my daughter to think of now. I didn’t go until a little over a month later – being a new mum your priorities are elsewhere – but my mum encouraged me to get it checked.

The first thing the doctor asked me was how much time I had spent in the sun, if I used protection in the sun and if I had ever used sunbeds. That day I had five biopsies taken for moles the doctor thought were suspicious.

When I went for the results, the doctor read them for the first time with me in the room. She paused briefly before saying “I’m really sorry it’s melanoma, I’m so shocked because I actually didn’t think it would be”.

Laura's breast after having the melanoma removed

I didn’t know just how life threatening melanoma could be. The doctor said it would have to be removed there and then to make sure it didn’t spread any further. It was caught at stage 1 so I was very lucky.

There was another mole that was suspicious and had to be cut out with the same depth as the one with melanoma. A further couple (that weren’t as progressed as the first two) were also removed. I now have five scars with the biggest about three inches long. The results confirmed all the melanoma had been removed but the doctor explained that I still needed to have a full skin check every six months.

Monitoring my skin for life

In March this year, we moved back to England for the sake of our daughter – I could no longer enjoy the Australian lifestyle. The doctor advised me to avoid the sun as much as possible, which was difficult in Australia. I was always smothering myself and my daughter in sunscreen as well as covering up.

On returning home I spotted another mole I wasn’t happy with and the doctors removed it straight away given my history, leaving me with a sixth scar. At the hospital it was made clear that I would need to check my own skin regularly for any changes going forward. I worry about missing something on the back of my body.

A scar on Laura's back

I know the melanoma could come back at anytime, anywhere on my body. Although I’ve successfully had the melanoma removed it’s on my mind everyday – thinking about the ‘what ifs’. I’m constantly checking my body and worrying whether my moles are normal, the fear never really leaves you.

I know I have been very lucky, my situation could have been much worse. I’m so grateful to the midwife for pointing out my mole as I probably wouldn’t have bothered checking it and might not have been so lucky.

Even now I have another couple of moles that I’m going to get checked out, with everything crossed that it’ll be ok. I’m sharing my story to help people (especially younger people) realise that tanning from UV rays just isn’t worth it. Whilst the tan might feel good, it’s far better to use fake tan. The ‘natural’ tan that everyone longs for is not worth dying for.

Laura Cooper

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