A melanoma experience for mother and son – Anna and Nicholas’s story

Cancer Council NSW

Anna remembers the first Slip, Slop, Slap campaign when she was in her teens, and credits it with her lifelong determination to keep her family safe in the sun.

“Before that campaign, we used to use baby oil at the beach because that’s what we thought was best. That’s how it was back then,” she remembers.

But the sun safety message cut through to Anna – she realised that taking action to prevent skin cancer would allow her to keep doing all the things she loved in life. Anna started to take more proactive care of her skin from the sun, while also looking out for any changes through regular skin checks.

Knowing your own skin helps catch melanoma early

Anna was checking her skin after a shower when she noticed two blotches next to each other on her back, around the size of her pinkie nail. Although they weren’t raised or causing Anna any irritation, she knew they hadn’t been there during her last skin check.

Anna’s doctor initially thought the blotches looked normal. But Anna insisted on getting a biopsy to make sure and, given her history, Anna’s doctor agreed. Both came back as stage one melanoma.

“Catching them early is key,” Anna says. “I was really lucky to have them cut out, and not need to go through any chemotherapy or radiation therapy afterwards. I’m also so glad that I followed my gut and pushed for having the biopsy.”

Anna knows the importance of keeping her family safe in the sun

Following her own melanoma diagnosis, Anna has made sure to instill good sun safety and skin cancer prevention habits in her own children – covering them in sunscreen and protective clothing and keeping them out of the sun in the hottest parts of the day.

Which is why Anna was as shocked as anyone when her daughter noticed an unusual spot on her son Nicholas’s head after he’d had a haircut.

“My heart sunk,” she remembers. “You can imagine my horror – having had so many things removed, I knew this one looked bad. Melanoma still managed to find a way to his scalp.”

The importance of advocating for your health

Although the spot wasn’t raised or irritated, Anna took Nicholas to the doctor, who initially thought it was nothing to worry about – partly because Nicholas was just 14 at the time. But Anna insisted they do a biopsy, which came back as stage one melanoma.

“The doctors were shocked to see such a young patient with melanoma – but while it is rare, it does happen,” says Anna, who knows better than anyone the importance of advocating for yourself and your family.

“Don’t ever think it could be nothing. Be your own guardian angel.”

Prevention is key to preventing skin cancer

Nicholas’s melanoma was removed without complications, but now he takes extra precautions in the sun, making sure to avoid it from 10am-4pm while UV is at its strongest.

The lack of shade available at school sports means he’s had to stop some of his favourite activities, such as swimming and athletics carnivals, and Anna is passionate about changing this, to help prevent more kids developing skin cancer in future.

If she could only pass on one message to others?

“Prevention is better than cure. Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen and protective clothing, and find shaded areas where possible. Constantly check yourself – know your own skin and always have a professional check up at least once a year,” she says.

Nicholas agrees. “Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re invincible,” he adds.

[CTAs about 13 11 20, CCNSW info resources – skin cancer, any other relevant pages eg anything we’re doing about ShareSmart or whatever else]

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