"I had a mole on my left shoulder – I've had it all my life, but a year and a half ago I noticed it getting bigger and darker. I'm quite fair, so I've always been aware of taking care in the sun, but I had concerns when I noticed the change, so I kept my eye on it.
Eventually I went to the doctors in spring last year, and was referred to the dermatologist under the 2-week rule. She told me that I wasn’t to worry, and that I had something called a seborrheic keratosis, a type of unharmful skin growth, which look like melanomas but aren't anything to be concerned about. I came away feeling reassured, and carried on as normal. I did, however, have a bit of a gut feeling that something wasn't right. The mole was in a slightly awkward position on my shoulder so I wouldn’t have noticed any changes without checking it regularly.
6 months after my appointment with the dermatologist, I was concerned. It kept getting bigger and darker, and even though the doctor had said to expect those symptoms, I really didn’t like the look of it.
I went back to the doctors a couple of months after that. I got referred again to a dermatologist but to a different hospital, and the doctor this time said that it needed to be removed. I was a little bit shocked, I couldn't work out what had changed in such a short space of time. By this point it was dark, dry and becoming itchy, and it had to go. It all happened quite quickly, and it was removed 2 weeks later. Less than 2 weeks after that, it was confirmed as a melanoma.
When it was confirmed I was in a bit of shock, but deep down I had known that it was a melanoma. What had shocked me the most was how advanced it was, as I was diagnosed with a stage 2a. I had thought that it would’ve been a lot earlier than that.
Once I'd been diagnosed, in May 2017 I had a wider local excision to remove any further tissue around the melanoma in case any cancer cells were still present. At the same time, I also underwent a sentinel lymph node biopsy, to determine if there was any trace of melanoma in nearby lymph nodes. I had 3 lymph nodes removed in total - one on my upper back, one on my neck and one on my underarm. The whole procedure was quite painful and invasive.
It was then confirmed that one of my 3 lymph nodes, the one closest to the melanoma, contained evidence of cancer. You try and stay positive but it was scary.
I got my results back from the biopsy and they told me that the area around the melanoma was clear, but the cancer had gone to one of the lymph nodes. They didn't recommend any further treatment, because it wasn’t in a group of lymph nodes, it was rogue (which is quite rare).
From now I'll be having regular skin checks and ultrasounds on my neck, as well as 6 monthly CT scans. It's all been quite overwhelming – it's not yet been a year since I went to the doctor the first time, it's all happened quite quickly. It’s surprising how it could spread, and I'm so grateful that I went back when I did. I could've left it so much longer.
I don't think the awareness is there for young people. I'm the first in my family to have it, there's no family history of it, so it took me by surprise.
I've never used sunbeds, I've always been careful in the sun. I've burnt a few times but never that badly – obviously now I'm being incredibly careful.
My mum would always make sure I wore sun cream as I was quite susceptible to burning. I have friends that would go out in the sun without any protection, whereas I would always have to be very careful. As I got older I went on a few holidays with friends and I wanted to get a tan, but I didn't go to extreme lengths, I still wore sun cream. I don't recall ever burning that badly on any occasion.
Since I was diagnosed it's been my intention to turn the experience into a positive by raising awareness of melanomas. I see people on social media posting pictures of themselves out in the sun, you see people walking round getting burnt, and I just want to tell them to be careful. I got melanoma and I was careful in the sun, which makes it even more important to take those precautions.
If it can be prevented, it's so crucial to go to those lengths to prevent it. I had no idea of the impact of a melanoma, or how quickly it could spread, or how invasive the surgery is. I feel incredibly strongly about it now and I would hate for anyone else to go through the same.
As to whether my diagnosis was a result of sun damage, it's not 100% clear. They asked me if I'd ever lived in a foreign country or if I could remember being burnt badly on any occasion, but I hadn't. Because of where the melanoma was (left shoulder), it's quite an exposed area so just walking round in the sun without covering my shoulders or back could have been a contributing factor.
I've been off work since the end of March when I was diagnosed, but should be returning to work in the next few weeks which I'm looking forward to. I’ve got to get back to normal and put it behind me, whilst remaining vigilant and taking lots of care in the sun."