This post is a difficult one to write as it is very personal to me. I have been asked to write this on behalf of a very brave woman who is a family friend and I have known since I was a small child. I have not seen her for a while and was approached by her husband to put her story across as she is desperate for this not to happen to any one else.
Being a skin therapist, I have for years written and advised clients on the importance of protecting the skin from UV exposure to prevent aging but most of all for skin safety. Even for those who do not ‘sun worship’ or have sunbeds, to always check for the changing of moles, if unsure or slightly concerned – GET IT CHECKED OUT!
I was contacted by Elaine’s husband, Jeff, who was told me about the charity Changing Faces, a charity who I had previously written about, he explained that they had been a great help to Elaine at which I questioned why? how?, I was confused. Jeff then proceeded to tell me the heartbreaking news of what Elaine had gone through.
Elaine had never been one for sunbathing or sunbeds, yet she had lived in Spain for three years. She had looked after her skin with the usual moisturising but had never used an SPF daily.
After twenty years, she found the mole on the side of her face had suddenly changed in size and texture and decided to go to her GP for advise, he referred her to Greenwich hospital to get it checked out and she was told they would monitor it for the time being and it was nothing to be concerned about. As time went on the mole had grown to two inches in diameter and still Elaine was told it was OK, until the mole started to get ‘lumpy’ it was then decided they would operate for biopsy. The first operation found the mole had indeed taken deep root, so much so the surgeon had to cut deep right down to the facial bone. The biopsy confirmed Malignant Melanoma.
Elaine, now having to deal with this news had to also go back for further skin tissue to be removed, in fact she has had to undergo eleven operations including a seven hour reconstructive surgery. Her Consultant, Mr Orca, sent her to see a Professor at The Royal Marsden and who tole them it was the most aggressive form of skin cancer he had ever seen and she will have full body MRI and CT scans every three months to monitor her health for secondaries. Elaine has been told she needs to have further operations for skin grafting as well as chemotherapy.
For anyone going through this ordeal, is traumatic. Elaine has been through hell and back, she has also had to deal with people staring at her. Jeff said “she cried after her first op it looked terrible, she had no cheek but gradually it started to look better. Everybody stares at her when we’re out. We was sitting in Marks & Spencers cafe and a woman lent over between us and said “what you done to your face? has he hit you?” – People are so insensitive”
Elaine now uses a SPF 50, given to her by her Consultant, she has also had great support from the Changing Faces charity, who are dedicated to men and women with severe burns and facial defects. The team at Changing Faces created a color pigment for Elaine, which took two hours to make and after they applied her make up both Jeff and Elaine cried.
There are different forms of skin cancer, Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Malignant Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It is developed when there is a radical change to the DNA of the skin cells in the basal layers of the epidermis, caused usually from UV radiation. Free radical attack creates mutations and cancerous growths develop. .
I have always told people to do a ‘mole map’. Take a photo of your moles every now and then so you can keep an eye on texture, shape and color. KNOW YOUR ABCDE!! Always use an SPF, daily,even if the sun is not out, this is a common misconception. UV rays are around us even if it is dull and cloudy.
A – Asymmetry – check to see if the mole is ‘symmetrical’ If both sides do not match, get it checked.
B – Border – check the border of the mole is smooth and even. Melanoma’s usually have scalloped or uneven edges.
C – Color – is your mole one shade of color? Melanomas have a variety of shades of brown, black, red or even white.
D – Diameter – Any mole that is has grown larger than the rubber on the end of your pencil needs checking.
E – Evolving – Be aware of any mole that changes over time. ANY change, including itching, crusting, bleeding as well as the points above, see your GP. The easiest way to keep track, is to keep a Mole map!
Jeff and Elaine have asked me to publish the pictures of Elaine’s face before, during and after to let people know what can happen. They are very graphic but hit home why it is important to CHECK YOUR MOLES!
Elaine, a personal note from me. You are a such a brave woman, I have no words that can bring you comfort but I hope and pray by you putting these pictures up and putting your story out there it will help others. Sending you all the love and healing.