My name is Julie, I am 63 years old, I have always had pale and freckly skin and I have also always adored the sun. As a child growing up in the 1960 my parents didn’t use/couldn’t afford sun screens and I feel they were less aware of malignant melanoma than we are now. As a teenager I was sunburned so many times that I really can’t count but to me then the sunburn was worth it because it would lead to a tan.
I become a mother in 1982 and again in 1986 and my attitude towards the sun certainly changed regarding my children’s protection and I even started using sun screen on myself, but only ever factor 10 or maximum factor 15. My husband would always grumble at me for not using a higher factor on myself but it was easy to have that carefree it won’t happen to me attitude – until it does!
In the spring of 2014, I noticed a small pink lump on my left forearm, it wasn’t a mole even thought I do have lots of them. At first, I thought it might be an insect bite but it wouldn’t go away so after a few weeks I went to see my GP. She sent me to have to lump removed and a few weeks later I got the call back and was told that the lump was indeed a malignant melanoma with a Breslow thickness of 5.4mm.
Then I was on the melanoma rollercoaster, dermatologists, scans, wonderful Macmillan nurses, a plastic surgeon plus an unbelievably anxious time (I think like anyone who gets diagnosed with any cancer my immediate thought was how long have I got). My amazing surgeon, who has been with me through the whole of my journey and I am pleased to say still is, did the first wide excision and at the same time removed another suspicious mark identified by the dermatologist on my right arm, that also turned out to be a malignant melanoma but thankfully was Stage 1 and has not reoccurred.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 5.4mm melanoma on my left forearm, three months after the first wide excision it was growing back and over the next two years, I had four more wide excisions, each time losing larger chunks from my arm and of course coping with the numerous necessary skin grafts. I cannot fault the NHS and its amazing staff who were absolutely wonderful throughout.
Eventually in the summer of 2016 with no sign of this thing giving up, I was sent to St George’s hospital in Tooting London to look into the possibility of electrochemotherapy. The Consultant at St Georges was very positive and thought it would be the right move for me. She asked for me to have several more scans which indicated that the melanoma had travelled to just one lymph node under my left arm but one is enough, so during the electrochemotherapy treatment I also had all the lymph nodes removed from that area.
That operation was in December 2016 and I am happy to report that I have been clear since then. I am still on six monthly checks and of course, my attitude to the sun is very different now, cover up, factor 50, hats and sunglasses plus I am learning to deal with, and not be scared of the sun, as I was when first diagnosed. I have also become rather evangelistic about being safe in the sun and I think my own experience has pushed many of my friends to change their attitude.
I remain positive and make the most of every single day, enjoying my family, my friends and my life and thanking all the wonderful people in the NHS who got me to this point.