This is my story.
It was one of the biggest defining moments of my life. One day I was living a great life as a carefree young woman and the next I was facing a potentially terminal diagnosis.
I’m talking about my unexpected melanoma diagnosis in 2009. The whole experience had a massive impact on me and made me re-evaluate how I wanted to live my life. Nothing like a health scare to help you get clarity on what’s really important to you!
I am exceptionally grateful to be healthy today and the scars on my body are a visual reminder to me of how precious life is. I appreciate how important it is to take care of myself and my family and to make the most of every day. My hope is that I can encourage you to do that too!
What is melanoma?
Most of us have heard of melanoma but do you actually know what it is?
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and unfortunately, New Zealand has the highest incidence rate in the world.
It develops in skin cells called melanocytes that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its colour and helps protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. If melanocytes join together, they form a mole that is usually completely safe. However, if the melanocytes in a mole start to grow in an unusual way, they can become a melanoma.
The first sign to be aware of is usually if an existing mole changes size, shape or colour or a new mole suddenly appears.
Melanoma can progress quickly so it is essential that you have any moles checked regularly, especially if they change shape or colour.
The good news is that if a melanoma is found early it can usually be treated successfully with surgery. That is why it is so important that you have your skin checked regularly by a doctor or make an appointment if you have any concerns.
What to Lookout For
Melanomas can be detected using the ABCDE system below. However, not all lesions show these characteristics, so it is always best to get your skin checked by a doctor annually or anytime a mole starts to change appearance.
Two halves of the mole are different from one another.
The edges of the mole are poorly define. It is ragged, blurred or an irregular shape.
The colour is uneven with shades of black, brown and tan. Melanomas may also be white, grey, red, pink or blue.
Different from other lesions (ugly duckling), there is a change, particularly an increase in size. Is there a new spot, feckly or mole that you haen’t noticed before?
Any chane in growth? New or elevanted? Is it becoming itchy or starting to bleed?
There is also a type of melanoma called ‘nodular melanoma’, which grows quickly and is often found on the head and neck and in older people, especially men. They are raised, firm and often uniform in colour.
How to Prevent Melanoma
There are some simple lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent melanoma:
- Protect your skin between 10am and 4pm when UV radiation is highest.
- Wear long-sleeved, collared shirts if out.
- Stay out of the sun and stick to the shade.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and reapply every 2 hours and after swmming.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears.
- Don’t use a sunbed or tanning lamp.
Information Is Power
Getting a melanoma diagnosis is scary but the good news is that it is preventable and treatable.
We only get one skin and it is essential that we take care of it. The most important things are to protect your skin from UV rays and seek medical advice if you notice any new moles appearing, or changes to existing moles.
Further information can be found on these websites: