22 November 2017
My friends say that I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of person, and I’m most at ease when I’m surrounded by nature. I’ve worked in my field for 15 years and love every minute of it, but as you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time in the sun. When my dad first pointed out a spot between my lip and my nose that he thought I should get looked at, it didn’t really register that I might be at risk of skin cancer. It wasn’t until Diem Luong, Community Education Coordinator at Cancer Council SA, came to present a SunSmart awareness presentation at my work that I realised the gravity of the situation. After seeing the images and learning about what skin cancer could look like, I realised that my spot ticked all the boxes.
Throughout the presentation, I started to become quite emotional. I was confronted with such a visual warning sign and the moment of recognition was so sudden. I remember going through these racing thoughts of anger, denial and even started to cry mid-way through. But by the end of it, I was adamant that I was going to do something about it. The very next week I booked in to see my GP and have it checked, and my suspicions were correct—I saw a specialist, had a biopsy, and then plastic surgery.
Going under the knife wasn’t a cause for concern for me; I went in feeling confident, because I had no understanding of the extent of the operation. When I woke up and looked in the mirror to see 23 stitches, I was devastated. You’re so used to seeing your face in the mirror every day and to see something else entirely is such a shock.
Despite that first reaction, I now wear my scar with pride. I was told that it was a basal cell carcinoma. My scar is a daily reminder to myself to stay vigilant, to do my bit to educate others, and to appreciate the life I’ve been given. When you go through an experience like that, all of your vanity and inhibition just goes out the window. It was my lightbulb moment, when I realised what was really worth worrying about.
I can’t stress enough the importance of education. For myself, it was hearing other peoples’ stories and having the undeniable images in front of me that finally shook me into taking action. My workplace has a very strict SunSmart policy, and we always wear personal protection and sunscreen, but you also can’t overlook the importance of checking your body. It wasn’t until Diem’s presentation that I learned about taking particular care in the sun when the UV is 3 or above. Without educating yourself properly, there’s the risk that you just avoid going outside out of fear, and you lose doing what you love.
The way I see it, now that I have benefited so immensely from my workplace looking after me, I want to go the extra mile to look after my colleagues. I work with a team of nine, and so education goes beyond the work environment. I tell them that all our efforts of wearing hats and long sleeves at work won’t benefit them if they go shirtless to the beach on the weekends.
Any industry that is exposed to sun has a duty of care to engage with up to date SunSmart education initiatives. I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know until I saw it. By telling my story I’m hoping to show my gratitude to Cancer Council SA, and to let people know that they’ve got to keep pushing that one stubborn friend like me. If one person goes out and does something differently, then my mission has been achieved.
I recently discovered a spot on my ear, and a doctor’s appointment was my immediate response. I’m waiting on the biopsy results now, and I’m confident that together with my regular self-skin checks, my yearly check-ups mean that anything else will be caught early on.
Cancer Council SA’s SunSmart workplace presentation is a one hour session that educates about UV radiation, how to identify UV hazards in the workplace, and how to check for skin cancers. It is important that all workplaces that employee outdoor workers have a UV protection policy in place and provide information to employees about skin cancer risks. To book a workplace presentation or for more information about how Cancer Council SA can support your workplace, phone Diem on 08 8291 4168, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sunsmart.org.au.