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Skin cancer: my story

Berkshire-based Teresa Finlay, now 55, was successfully treated for a malignant melanoma 18 years ago. She tells benenden health why she hasn't sunbathed since. 

“I returned from a holiday in Cyprus, with what I thought was an insect bite on my arm. I thought it would go away, but it didn't, and after some time I went to the doctor because it looked a bit angry.

The doctor referred me to a dermatologist who cut a little bit away and sent it off for a biopsy. I was told it was non-malignant and that there was nothing wrong.

After coming back from my holiday, I used a sun bed at the gym to prolong my tan. I think this was a big factor, because I didn't normally do that and I have quite fair skin, naturally, and am a little freckly. I didn't overuse the sun bed, but we were all keen to have a tan in those days.

About a year later, I went on another sunshine holiday and noticed that the mark on my arm turned black and then angry. It prickled and stung a little, and so I went back to the doctor. It was the size of my little fingernail and very black and ugly, and so it was vanity that made me ask for it to be removed.

I was referred to a plastic surgeon at the King Edward Hospital in Windsor, who took one look at it and booked me in for a procedure the following day. The consultant removed it under local anaesthetic, taking quite a large margin of skin around it.

Hearing the diagnosis

A week later I went back for the biopsy results. I didn't expect it to be anything bad, but then of course they told me it was skin cancer, a malignant melanoma. It really hits you when you're told you have something like that and I was really shocked at first, quite numb. 

I was told that if it did return there was a chance I could develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma,when it goes to the lymph glands, and that's what I was really worried about. Actually my glands did come up and over the next year I had three lymph nodes under my arms removed. Fortunately they were all benign.

Enjoying good health

So I guess I was a lucky one – very lucky – and after five years of regular check-ups I was given the all-clear. They had removed the melanoma well, with a huge margin, and so I've been left with quite a scar for such a little thing.

Nowadays I always check my skin and never sunbathe or expose myself to the sun. If I'm walking my dogs I use a foundation with an SPF or a high-factor sun cream. Always.

We still go on sunshine holidays, as my husband likes to sunbathe, but what happened to me is enough to put anyone off for ever. I would never sit in the sun now and find myself some shade instead. But I can still enjoy my holiday just as much without sunbathing.”

Further information

The British Skin Foundation has a useful "skinformation" section where you will find facts about skin cancer and sun safety, as well as an A-Z of skin diseases.

If you are worried about a mole or a freckle that has changed in shape, is painful, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see your GP.

In addition, members of benenden health are able to call the 24/7 GP advice line allowing them to speak to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.

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