Something had been bugging me for a while.
It was a mole on my leg that had gradually gotten darker in the centre. I had Googled images of melanomas to compare it to the one on my leg (nothing like doing a bit of DIY diagnosis online, it’ always so accurate!) and it did look similar to other melanomas.
It had been playing on my mind for over six months, but I kept putting it off doing anything about it. Mainly because I had managed to convince myself that I probably had skin cancer and was terrified to find out that my paranoia was actually true.
I had a reason to be paranoid, my skin record ain’t that great. I grew up on the beach and as a young kid I hated wearing a hat. Even though my mum would put one on my head before I walked out the front door, I would rip it off as soon as I was out of her sight. I hated wearing sun cream as well, but that was smothered all over me nonetheless. For some unknown reason, I think I thought it would make me go blind.
When I was a teenager I loved to tan. I would lie down at Cottesloe beach in Perth for hours with my girlfriends trying to get the darkest tan possible without burning so that I would look smoking hot in the white strapless dress I would wear out to the pub that night.
And to top it all off, when I lived in London, I started going to solariums.
Yes, despite all the things I know about skin cancer, despite my mum telling me about this campaign in Australia at the time, where a young girl had got skin cancer from going to sun beds and died, despite the fact that my Nana had DIED of skin cancer. I baked myself. I would go to the solarium about twice a week. I was able to rationalize this by saying to myself, “Well, I don’t get any sun in London anyway, so this is like getting my week’s worth of UV in one hit.” I also worked in the fashion industry, and everyone was bright orange or tanned all year round. I wanted to look like an oompa loompa too!
I read an article last week and took a test that pushed me over the edge. It was about how Melbourne doctors had created a skin cancer calculator for people to work out their risk of getting a melanoma in the next five years. The calculator assessed the best available evidence for individual risk factors such as age, hair colour, complexion, where you live and family history. It also asked users to identify how many different moles they have on their body. The calculator was created by funding from the Emily Tapp Foundation, which has been raising awareness of skin cancer since Emily, a young 27-year-old Victorian woman, died of skin cancer in 2006.
I took the test and, surprise, surprise... my risk of developing a melanoma was very high. I had to bite the bullet and go to a skin cancer specialist.
While I was walking down Chapel Street on my way to the clinic, believing that the horrible thing on my leg was a melanoma, many thoughts were running through my mind. “If only I hadn’t been an idiot and not gone to the solarium.” “If only I listened to mum and kept that ugly full-brim hat on.” “If I die because of a tan I’ll be so pissed off. But let’s face it, we will all die of something, but a TAN! There are much more exciting ways to go out.” But mainly, “I’ve still got so much I want to do.”
I got to the clinic, riddled with anxiety and guilt, stripped down to my undies and lay on this bed whilst the doctor examined the horrible mole on my leg. “It’s fine,” he said.
The relief was unreal, but I felt like I didn’t deserve it, after all of the solarium time I had done, and the unprotected sun exposure I had had.
The doctor said that he was cutting melanomas out of woman on a weekly basis who were regularly going to solariums. He said that the message just wasn’t getting through. According to Cancer Council Australia, more than 10,300 people are treated for melanoma a year, with 1,430 people dying.
It seems that after years of rebelling against everything I knew about skin cancer and the risks I was taking, the fear of thinking that I actually had the dreaded “C” made me realise the damage I was doing. So, the next time I feel like donning the oompa loompa look, it’s going to be from out of a bottle. Because, as they say, a tan is definitely not worth dying for.
If you want to check yourself before you wreck yourself, head to http://victorianmelanomaservice.org/calculator
Follow Claire on Twitter at @claireftweets