Liverpool mum Louise warns of the dangers of sunbeds on World Melanoma Day 2017
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and Public Health Liverpool has teamed up with Melanoma UK to remind people of the dangers of spending too long in the sun, encourage people to cover up and highlight the dangers of using sunbeds.
*The following article contains graphic images
But before you think this is just another health announcement, read on as Ellie Phillips meets up with Liverpool mum, Louise Stranack, who suffered a terrifying experience of melanoma and has bravely allowed us to share her story and graphic photographs in a bid to warn others of the dangers of using sunbeds.
“I started using sunbeds at 13, as it was the trend at the time.”, admits Louise a 30-year-old hair stylist and mother-of-two, from Speke. Louise is a happy, outgoing and very pretty young woman. But, for the past year, she wouldn’t have described herself that way.
Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Lilly, in 2011, then aged 24, Louise noticed a dark shadow which had appeared under her right eye, initially she thought nothing of it: “I just got used to it being there and it just became part of my face.”
Roughly two years later, she noticed the shadow had grown, so went to get it checked out. Louise’s GP told her it was nothing to worry about and that it was just pigmentation of her skin. By 2015 it started to become more noticeable, especially on photographs.
Dark patches started to form inside the shadow, like blackhead type things, but they were really itchy, and they were growing. Realising something was definitely wrong, Louise revisited the doctor’s surgery and asked to be referred for a second opinion. She was sent to the Dermatology Unit at Broadgreen Hospital to be checked over.
It was then, in February 2016, that Louise attended Aintree Hospital for a biopsy to have the dark lumps inside the shadow removed and investigated further. Mr Austin McCormick, a consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon at Aintree Hospital, who specialises in periocular skin cancer (cancers near the eye), conducted the biopsy. Shortly after the surgery, Louise received her results.
“It was melanoma – skin cancer, I couldn’t believe it!”
Malignant melanoma is the least common but most serious form of skin cancer, which can be fatal if not caught and removed early.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you!”, she says. “I had to have more surgery, but this time the surgery, at Whiston Hospital, would include a skin graft from the inside of my right arm.
Then came more devastating news. Louise was told that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in her ear and neck, and so those melanoma would also have to be removed.
“The consultation was heart-breaking, I had to sit there while they drew on my face to show me the size of the area that they were going to have to remove. I cried and begged them not to, to hear the words “if you don’t have this surgery done, you may not get to see your five year old grow up” was the absolute worst, but I agreed to have the procedure.”
Would I look deformed? Would I ever look normal again? These were all questions which haunted Louise. For months following the surgery, Louise had to wear a patch and dressings, and often didn’t want to leave the house.
“People would stare at me, or make comments like “I hope he’s worth it”, assuming I was a victim of domestic violence or something.”
Finally, in July 2016, Louise was given the all clear.
“I’ve never been so happy than at that moment, I was so relieved. The consultants told me that the melanoma had grown 1.55mm in two years. Another year and I would have lost my right eye.”
Louise hasn’t been near a sunbed since her diagnosis, opting to use fake tan instead.
“I’m now very wary of the dangers of UV rays, and can’t have my face in the sun as the graft may discolour.”
After being advised not to have another baby for at least three years (because if the cancer was to return, she wouldn’t be able to be treated whilst pregnant), just three weeks after being given the all clear, Louise fell pregnant with her second child.
“More worry! I had to undergo scans and appointments with consultants, finally to be end up being told that the baby and I would be fine.”
Now, almost a year on, Louise’s face shows almost no trace of the traumatic surgery which she endured, her self-confidence is back, and four weeks ago she welcomed her second child into the world: a beautiful, healthy baby boy, called Harry.
“I’m happier than ever! I have my two beautiful children, and I am more thankful now than ever to be alive. This experience has changed my whole outlook on life. Never take it for granted.”
Monday 8th May 2017 is World Melanoma Day
Over the last 25 years, rates of malignant melanoma in Britain have risen faster than any other common cancer and it is now the second most common type among people aged 15-34. The number of cases in Liverpool have more than doubled since 2001 – up from 47 to 99.
Diane Cannon, Corporate Partnership Director at Melanoma UK, s spearheading the awareness campaign in Liverpool and lost her young niece to melanoma, leaving behind two children. Diane explains that in 80-90% of cases, melanoma can be removed with no recurrence.
“However, melanoma can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer, because it can metastasise (spread) to other parts of the body, such as in Louise’s case”, says Diane.
“One of the biggest causes of melanoma is exposure to too much ultraviolet light in sunlight. So, the use of artificial sources of ultraviolet light, such as sunbeds, seriously increases the risk of getting a melanoma.”, she warns.
6 Easy Steps to Protecting Your skin from Melanoma UK
1 – Avoid over exposure to the sun
2 – Avoid burning of the skin (red to blistering)
3 – Avoid sunbed use
4 – Cover up using clothes, hats, sunglasses
5 – Seek shade at the hottest parts of the day (11am – 3pm)
6 – Always use sunscreen – SPF 30+ for both adults and children
Mr McCormick, Louise’s surgeon supports this important advice, adding, “It is important to protect your skin from the harmful effects of ultra-violet light by using high factor sun protection creams, including in the area around the eyes where it is difficult to apply cream.”
Moreover, he stresses the importance of wearing certified UV filtering sun glasses, as those without UV filtering offer no protection.
She says, “I wanted to share my experience to make people aware that skin cancer is real and it can happen to real people, I’m living proof.
“I’m lucky to be alive, and hopefully my story will encourage others to steer clear of sunbeds, and take the right precautions to protect themselves. Was it all really worth a tan?! Definitely not!”