In the 1970s, when Sharon was growing up, no one was aware of the dangers of UV radiation, or knew how to be SunSmart. Read about its impact on Sharon, who has since been diagnosed with multiple Stage 2 melanomas.
In early 2013, Sharon noticed an ongoing itchy spot on her back near her right shoulder blade.
“I couldn’t see the area on my back in the mirror, and as I live alone, I couldn’t check the spot myself. So, I decided to visit my local doctor’s surgery.”
The GP on duty told Sharon he felt it was eczema and gave her a script for a dermatitis cream. The spot continued to irritate Sharon, but it wasn’t until 6 months later, that she got a second opinion.
The itchy spot was still there, so I asked my sister to look at it. She said it looked like a splotch of black paint and suggested I get a second opinion, which I did. I returned to the doctor’s surgery and saw a different GP who told me that I needed an immediate biopsy. I had one the next day.”
The following day, Sharon was told to bring a family member with her to the clinic. They said she had the most serious type of Stage 2 skin cancer—and immediately booked her in for an operation.
“They not only removed all the black spot, but the lymph nodes were taken out of my right armpit too.”
Then a complication occurred. They had removed so much from the area, that when they sewed it up, there was nothing left to hold the stitches together. So, the stitches burst open. They gave Sharon a PICO device, instead of a skin graft, which she wore for a week. Thankfully, it worked!
“I felt so relieved that the PICO worked—especially being so close to a Stage 3. I didn’t have to have a skin graft or chemo. I felt extremely lucky.”
Sharon must get her skin checked regularly for the rest of her life. So, every 3 months she visits her GP for a check-up, with bi-annual checks at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. To lighten things up, Sharon refers to her original melanoma as ‘Geoffrey’.
In the 8 years since ‘Geoffrey’ emerged, Sharon has bravely faced 2 major operations and has had 20 incisions over all areas of her body at different times. Biopsies have found five moles to be melanomas.
Whenever I go outside now, I always wear sunscreen, long sleeve cotton shirts and pants, a hat and sunglasses. I’ll only ever sit in the shade (never in direct sunlight) and if I can avoid it, I won’t go out during Summer”.
Sharon has learned that most of her skin damage was done when she a child. Having grown up in the 1970s, suntanning was encouraged and playing outside without sunscreen was normal. And no one was aware they needed to protect themselves from UV radiation.
“Parents, please protect your kids every single day from the sun. And everyone should follow the SunSmart rules—use sunscreen everywhere (even on your hands), wear long sleeve shirts, hats, sunglasses, and stay in the shade. The skin cancer I have today, started in my childhood because we didn’t follow sun protection rules.”
If you’d like to learn more about finding skin cancer early please visit our website here and more on being SunSmart here. You’ll find downloadable resources and our SunSmart app which tells you when you do and don’t need sun protection, making it easier than ever to be smart about your sun exposure all year.