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I’m dying of skin cancer – don’t think sunburn is just part of summer

It all began for me with a mole on my leg in 1993 (Picture: Leeds Hospitals Charity)

Standing in the supermarket queue, I spotted a woman waiting for the till next to mine.

Her skin gleamed red and she was wearing a strapless dress, the marks left from her outfit the day before were clearly visible. As I looked at her back, I thought, ‘Oh dear, what a shame’. 

As someone with terminal stage 4 melanoma – otherwise known as skin cancer – getting through a heatwave and seeing other people do damage to their skin is hard.

I know there will be people right now who have been out in the sun and the harm will already have been done.  

They may think the burn will go down tomorrow and then the tan will emerge – but they will still have put themselves at risk.  

UV rays from the sun cause skin cancer, and those who burn more easily can have a higher chance of the disease developing. Yet it’s not just those who turn crimson that need to worry, anyone spending too much time in the sun could be in danger.  

Even when it’s cloudy, the sun is always there. A breeze, overcast weather – it can be deceiving. The heatwave is set to subside in the coming days but it doesn’t mean you can put your sun cream away. I want people to know they need to always protect their largest living organ.  

It all began for me with a mole on my leg in 1993.  

I was in my late 20s when I went to the doctor and was told it was skin cancer. The mole was removed and I lived in remission until 17 years later.  

Since then I’ve had three operations to remove the cancer on my leg, but it travelled in my blood and in 2015 my right lung had to be removed.  

Sunburn

Prevention, of course, is the best approach (Picture: Getty Images)

Living with one lung is particularly hard right now. Intense heat – or extreme cold – affects my breathing. I’ve had serious infections because chemo impacted my immune system; I almost lost my life.  

Thankfully, I am under the care of Leeds Cancer Centre, whose five-year survival rate for melanoma is significantly higher than average. 

Prevention, of course, is the best approach.  

I want everyone to wear suncream every day, factor 30 minimum, with both UVA and UVB. 

When I was younger, I just didn’t know this. 

There was a culture of tanning. We didn’t have the education then, or such a range of sun creams. People were still using oils and low factor creams, not for health or protection, but to get bronzed.  

I would have hoped that people would know differently now, but then I have to ask why people still allow themselves to burn.  

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the fifth most common cancer in the UK. This needs to be heard more.  

Perhaps you think it’s nice to have a bit of a tan, and that means you’re healthy? A good dose of Vitamin D?  

When you’re burnt, the skin is damaged. It heals on top, and eventually you’ll turn brown, but you don’t know what is happening underneath. UV overexposure alters our DNA.  

Being told you have the C word is hard enough – being told you are terminally ill is a tough pill to swallow.  

I know people who live in denial of their cancer, but I knew I needed to carry on and deal with it.  

I want to change how Brits approach the sun – forever (Picture: Leeds Hospitals Charity)

The most important thing was to get the right care, and I was very fortunate to get that. I’m not letting that C word define me. I’m carrying on with everything I do, and more. 

That includes my epic fundraising mission, Jacqui’s Million, to support all cancer patients, for Leeds Hospitals Charity. So far, I’ve raised over £250,000 to provide specialist equipment, support research projects, and improve the ward environment for cancer patients. I am determined to reach a million. 

I’ve published a children’s book, Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen, with a fellow cancer patient, Sandra Hudson, who wrote the narrative, with illustrations by Rob Gilroy, to highlight the importance of sun protection. Profits will go to Jacqui’s Million.  

I want to change how Brits approach the sun – forever. 

The book normalises hats, and sun cream alongside buckets and spades, as three children go on adventures in the sun. Just as we teach children to wash their hands after using the bathroom, or brush their teeth before bed, sun protection should be an everyday measure. 

If you think this message doesn’t need to be heard, then Google the news reports about the children who were hospitalised this week with extreme sunburn. 

Sun protection needs to become a basic habit. If we can educate children, they can be agents of change. Just look at how they grapple issues like climate change. They not only educate the next generation, but their parents as well.  

We are all terminal. We all get up every day, and have no idea what that day will bring. Things happen. Since my diagnosis, every day is a gift. So, my stance is I need to do the best with my life. If telling my journey helps just one person from going through cancer, that’s fantastic.  

I want to use my story to help other people understand that skin cancer is not only horrible, it’s a killer.  

My generation is facing melanoma and skin cancers, because of the lack of education. Let’s make sure our children are educated.  

To donate to Jacqui’s Million, go to: www.justgiving.com/jacquismillion

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.


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