A starting thought: our skin is our largest organ, but have you ever been formally educated about the risks that come with it?

Growing up with fair-hair and lots of moles has meant I’ve always had an awareness of my skin. For the entirety of my life so far, I have been reminded to lather myself in sun-cream every time a glimmer of sun pokes through the clouds. The words ‘skin cancer’ would casually be thrown into conversation, a notion that seemed so improbable.

During my 22 years of existence, I had never routinely checked my skin; but in August 2021, I caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar mole on my back. I was referred to a dermatologist by my GP and within 2 weeks I had seen a consultant who informed me I would need a biopsy. The procedure was explained and before I knew it, I had lost a mole and gained a new scar! (Yup… that diddy black mark on my back really can be fatal).

My life continued as normal: I went to work, had a blast with friends and family, never anticipating the phone call I was to receive.

“…unfortunately you have Stage 1 Melanoma…we will need to operate and remove more of your skin”

I made the conscious decision to think only in a practical way, suppressing any emotion. I focused myself on booking sick leave, cancelling plans, bulk buying wound dressings and digging out my loose-fitting clothes. ANYTHING to distract myself.

In October ‘21 melanoma gifted me with a significantly larger and more painful scar. The frantic preparation was over, I could only rest, and suddenly I was left solely with my mind.

For someone who is normally pretty good at understanding her emotions, I felt completely hopeless at managing my complex thoughts and feelings, totally overwhelmed by an abundance of fear, confusion, sadness, anger and guilt. The pain meant I was unable to wash or dress independently, completely reliant on my wonderful mum in order to meet my basic human needs. Just to look at my scar made me cry, and not because of what it looked like, but because it was a constant reminder of what felt like a terrifying reality. The emotional toll was unexpected and completely exhausting.

But, as with everything in life: time heals…

Looking to the future 

Nine months on and I can confidently say that I have my mojo back! My life is just as (if not more) fulfilling than it ever has been before. Regular hospital visits for what I like to refer to as my ‘full body MOT’ provide the invaluable reassurance that my skin is behaving and I am melanoma-free. Meanwhile, a fantastic support system has enabled me to slowly unpick my thoughts and feelings and address them in a way that allows me to live in normality.

Of course, life would have been far more simple if the past year had not been so heavily dictated by melanoma. But despite this, I will never forget how lucky I have been. I have a parent who has never stopped nagging me about my skin, and a career in the medical world. It is these two things, teaching me to act quickly enough, which has ultimately saved my life.

However, there are many people who do not have the same understanding or appreciation for their skin. The education system does not teach you about skin cancer, social media sets an unrealistic standard of beauty based on how bronzed you are, and as Brits, we are so excited by the prospect of warm sunshine, that we completely neglect our skin when we finally see it.

From me to you: take time to know your own skin and give it a regular check. Educate yourself on the signs of skin cancer and never be afraid to ask if you are unsure. I am living a wonderfully happy life because I knew to do these things, and it is my mission to make sure others get that chance too. Please; continue the conversation about skin cancer and remember to check your skin.

Molly Brown

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