A skin cancer survivor from Sherburn-in-Elmet, near Selby, is urging young people to look after their skin and get checked out if they notice any unusual changes.
Jennifer Morton, 21, is helping Yorkshire Cancer Research highlight the importance of staying safe in the sun as part of Sun Awareness Week, which takes place from May 8 to 14.
The charity has been running a Sun Awareness campaign since 2015, taking sunscreen, colour-changing UV wristbands and information about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer to summer events such as cricket matches, the Great Yorkshire Show and local fairs and galas.
Between 2001-2003 and 2012-2014, cases of melanoma, the most aggressive and life-threatening type of skin cancer, increased by 46% in Yorkshire. Rates increased by 38% in Vale of York CCG within the same time period. Between 2012 and 2014, 231 people were diagnosed with the disease the York area.
Jennifer was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the age of 20 in November 2015. She had always been careful in the sun, wearing factor 50 sunscreen all year round, but a growing mole on her neck had raised concerns among her family and friends.
Jennifer said: “It did take me a while to get checked out. Other people had started to notice the mole and they asked me about it, even my four-year-old nephew. I’m one of those people who likes to get on with things and get on with life, so maybe because of that, and the fact that I had always taken good care of my skin, it just hadn’t occurred to me to worry.
“It’s just a freckle getting bigger, I thought. But it continued to get bigger and became this dark, mismatched shape. It even started to itch and bleed.”
Jennifer’s mum asked her to get it checked at the doctors, so she booked an appointment. She was immediately referred to the dermatology department at York Hospital, where her mole was removed and sent away for sampling.
Jennifer continued: “I was called back in shortly afterwards and was told it was cancer. I remember there being so many people in the room – a nurse, a skin cancer specialist, the doctor, my mum and me. One of the first thoughts that went through my head was: how can this be happening to me? I felt like it was happening to someone else.”
Luckily, Jennifer’s cancer was found at an early stage, which meant that it could be treated with surgery. She had further tissue around the area of the mole removed, and was given the ‘all-clear’ in January 2016.
“I now have a huge scar on my neck as a reminder of how serious it was,” she says. “A colleague once cruelly asked me if I’d tried to slit my throat and another if I was going out to a Halloween party, thinking it was funny. The comments deeply hurt and have stayed with me. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the way I did and still do. It’s important to me that attitudes around cancer disfigurement change.”
Jennifer now wears factor 110 sunscreen every day and avoids going outdoors between 11am and 3pm whenever possible. When she does go outside, she wears a sunhat, sunglasses and other protective clothing.
Jennifer is required to attend York Hospital every three months for two years to be thoroughly checked over by a dermatologist consultant and then every six months for a further three years. She is under a standard Cancer Monitoring Programme to help ensure the cancer does not return and that if it does, it will be caught quickly before it has a chance to spread further and cause cancers to develop in other parts of the body.
She said: “My life has totally changed. I can’t do anything without thinking about protecting my skin. I’ve even had my desk moved away from the windows at work. It’s funny how much more you become aware of the sun. My daily sun care regime is extreme, but it has to be.
“I want to help raise awareness of skin cancer, particularly among young people. Just because you’re young, it doesn’t mean you won’t get it. If someone like me can get skin cancer, when I’ve always tried to take care of my skin, then what does that mean for people who perhaps don’t think about skin care as much?
“Nobody likes to think about getting skin cancer, but prevention is always better than cure. Everyone should feel comfortable within their own body and being pale is ok. You shouldn’t have to ‘need’ a tan to feel good and comfortable in your own skin.”
Staying Safe in the Sun
Exposure to the sun or sunbeds is the cause of 86% of skin cancer cases. It is estimated that 80% of lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood. One blistering sunburn can double the risk of getting melanoma later in life, and sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80%.
You can avoid sunburn by:
- Staying in the shade – Spend time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest, usually between 11am and 3pm.
- Wearing sunscreen – Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and with a 4 or 5 star rating.
- Covering up – Wear clothes that protect you from the sun including a hat and sunglasses.
- Watching the clock – Take extra care when on holiday in sunnier climates. You may burn quickly, even when it is cloudy or when it isn’t hot.
- Avoiding sunbeds – Sunbeds and sunlamps can increase your risk of getting skin cancer. Public Health England recommend that you do not use them, except for medical reasons.
How to spot skin cancer
The most common sign of skin cancer is a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin.
Other signs include:
- A new growth or sore that doesn’t heal
- A spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
- A mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs.
Do not try to diagnose yourself. If you notice any changes to your skin that do not go away, or anything unusual, talk to your doctor straight away.
Notes to Editors
- Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
- We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
- Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
- Current statistics show that 565 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
- We aim to:
- Be the leading authority on cancer in Yorkshire, understanding the problems and priorities in the region and sharing knowledge with partners.
- Raise awareness of cancer and how to prevent it by working in local communities, schools and colleges, sports clubs and with other health-related organisations.
- Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
- Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient’s journey.
- Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.
- For further information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
- Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer – Yorkshire Cancer Research
- Tel: 01423 877 228
- Last updated: 11/05/2017
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