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Who knew it was malignant melanoma? Carly's Story

By Carly Craddock, Deputy Chief Operating Officer

Good friends not only top your wine glass up when needed but also tell you to go and get ‘that mole’ checked, again! And so I did. Who knew it was a malignant melanoma!

I had been to see a GP but my mole didn’t really neatly fit into the ABCDE signs of melanoma. But when I returned to my GP again six months later they promptly referred me to Sandwell Dermatology Department. It was laughable really as the medical illustration room was set up like a photo shoot. My legs are definitely not modelling material!

The Consultant was a bit unsure as to whether it could be melanoma and so decided that they would cut it out and send it for a biopsy.

I then had my follow-up appointment with the Consultant now the biopsy results had come back. I found out it was cancerous before I even went into the room because a McMillan Nurse was waiting for me to join the Consultant's room. The appointment was a bit of a blur…thankfully it was early stages and so it was a case of keeping an eye out for swollen lymph nodes and feeling unwell, with quarterly follow-ups. There was no treatment apart from excising more of the skin and flesh around where the mole had been and I now have a 10cm scar for a mole that was less than 1cm. The day after the day of surgery I had tickets to go and see a comedian, and went…but I wasn’t laughing very much.

Within a year I was discharged as the research showed that if it had spread internally then it would have become apparent by now. It is better psychologically for patients to get on with their lives rather than it playing on their minds while having regular follow-ups. Thankfully the survival rate is high, at 87%.

I do feel like a fraud when I have to tick a form or tell someone I have had cancer as I didn't have the challenging treatment and health scare that most people have with cancer. So I am lucky. I am thankful that I had this scare so early on in my life (just turned 30) so I could change my relationship with the sun…I no longer worship it! Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and 85% of cases are preventable!

Ironically the day after I was told the mole was cancerous I was going on holiday to Portugal, where my Mum lives. So the first thing I did was go and exchange my sun cream for a higher factor! I did sunbathe a lot when I was younger - always after a suntan whether on holiday, or for that special occasion like a friend's wedding. I did go on sunbeds occasionally but not regularly. Now, I rarely stay out in the sun and if I do I am usually stealing the kids’ factor 50.

What's even more strange is that a guest who was staying in the same condominium as my Mum's apartment was the head of the clinical department that I was treated by, and I sat next to them on the plane journey back - what a small world!

I have had a couple of moles checked since. In females, the most common specific location for melanoma skin cancers in the UK is the lower limb, in males the most common specific location for melanoma skin cancers in the UK is the trunk. Thankfully both times they have been fine and even though I always feel bad for wasting the health professionals’ time, I would always say to anyone, if you aren’t sure go and get it checked!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.