Jenni is a member of my family and childhood friend of mine. Over time she’s become a loyal friend, advocate and supporter of I Am Natural too. A few years ago she went through a very emotional experience with skin cancer and would like to share her story with you to help warn of the dangers of sun exposure.
“Check your moles, any changes in shape or size. As this cancer is the only one with 100% survival if caught early”.
You can read my conversation with Jenni below. Her strength and dedication to helping others is inspiring …
Jenni, when did you first discover something was wrong?
My husband Tim noticed that I had a red mole on my back, and we thought best that I get it checked.
How old were you? Just 42
How long did your diagnosis take and how did you feel?
I went to be referred in September 2014 and the letter came through around 6 months later in March 2015, by this time I’d moved from the UK to Jersey. So I went to my doctor here and received another referral around April/May time.
On 27th June 2015 I saw the consultant who said it looked interesting and best to remove it. That was around lunchtime and by 5pm I had a call booking in my operation for the next day, 28th June.
Wow that was fast!
My mole was around only 1/2 cm round yet my first operation I had 9 stitches, 3 internal, 6 long. I knew then in my mind it must be cancer, and it had been removed.
I had to wait two weeks for the result which confirmed I had stage 2 malignant melanoma and required another operation on the 13th August, this was carried out by another surgeon.
How did it effect you and your family?
I was back in the UK in July for a wedding. My family knew I was having a mole removed but thought it was nothing serious. Once diagnosed I felt better speaking face to face to loved ones, as cancer is a big word and scares/ upset most people, so I referred to it as malignant melanoma as it held less pain.
My faith is strong, so I gave it to God and knew whatever the outcome I’d deal with it one day at a time. This helped me to stay strong, but didn’t stop it playing on my mind. The sadness part was talking to my elderly dad and explaining that I could die before him and I needed reassurance he’d look after my boys.
Luckily after the second operation on 13th August it was confirmed that they had successfully removed all the cancerous cells and I just required annual checks.
I’m now nearly 7 yrs cancer free.
How do you think you got skin cancer?
I don’t know, they say every time you burn you increase your risk. Being fair increased my chances, plus I’d always burn a bit each year on the parts the sun lotion missed and in the 1980’s the highest factor was 6!
However my mole was by my bra strap, which only sees the sun when outside in a swimming costume, which isn’t very often as I’m not a sun worshiper.
How was it treated?
During the operation I was awake. The area was numbed so I could feel tugging but no pain. Of course it was very sore afterwards and tender and I had melolin dressings which needed changing.
If you had surgical scar wounds, how did you treat them and did you use anything other than Vaseline?
I do not recall if I put anything on them. My scar after the second surgery is lumpy due to old scar tissue and depth of skin removal. I had 19 stitches.
How long from diagnosis were you given the all clear?
After 2 years, but I will forever need to check my moles and lymph glands, due to location on my back that could have easily spread to breast cancer.
What do you do differently in your life now as a direct result of this experience? Eg. diet, clothing, health, stress-free activities, skincare, sunscreen etc.
I wear Factor 50 on my face every day and in summer I apply Factor 30 or 50 on rest of my exposed skin.
I joined the Donna Annard Melanoma Charity which was a Jersey cancer charity as a volunteer to help raise awareness, this also included helping at free mole clinics. I shared my story whilst demonstrating the UV ultra violet booth to prove the benefit of sun cream. They have a helpful cartoon character, Alan the Mole.
What advice would you give about preventing skin cancer?
Always wear sun protection. I now have brown age spots on my right side of my face where I used to drive 4 hrs a day for work and the damage from the sun through the glass.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Check your moles, any changes in shape or size. As this cancer is the only one with 100% survival if caught early. There are different types of skin cancer so any changes in a mole need to be checked by a GP.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
About 80% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma. This type of cancer grows slowly and usually develops on the head and neck. These cancers are strongly correlated to a person's sun exposure. Basal cell cancers are much less likely than melanomas to spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Nearly 20% of skin cancer. Cells in these cancers look like abnormal versions of the squamous cells seen in the outer layers of the skin. Usually appear on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears, neck, lips and back of hands. Squamous cell cancers grow slowly and are almost always treatable.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer but it is only 1% of all cases. Melanomas are cancers that develop from melanocytes, the cells that make the brown pigment that gives skin its color. Melanocytes can also form benign (non-cancerous) growths called moles.
Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body but are more likely to start in certain areas. The trunk (chest and back) is the most commonplace in men. In women, the legs are the most common site. The neck and face are other common places for melanoma to start. It can also occur on skin not exposed to the sun
Melanomas are not as common as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but they can be far more serious. Like basal cell and squamous cell cancers, melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages. But if left alone, melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body, where it can be very difficult to treat.
The 5-year survival rate for Melanoma is:
Thank you so much Jenni for sharing your difficult story and explaining the different types of skin cancer. I am overjoyed that you are free from cancer and impressed with how well your scar has healed!
You are an inspiration; the people you have helped with your charity work are very lucky.
If you have an experience with skin cancer you'd like to share, please get in touch with me.
Remember, contact your GP immediately if you notice any changes in your skin moles.
Read more about skincare in the I Am Natural Vegan Beauty Journal