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Column You can get a tan from a bottle, so save your skin

People in Ireland seem to be obsessed with getting a tan – but this country has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the entire world. It’s time to wake up to the real danger sun of exposure, says Pauline Power, who was diagnosed with a melanoma at 29.

I WAS SITTING out the back garden with my mother, when she noticed an unusual mole on my foot. I had been ignoring it and when she pointed it out to me I told her it was fine. It didn’t show any of the serious signs like bleeding, so I honestly thought it wasn’t a problem. But it began to play on my mind after that, so I decided to get it checked out, and I am so glad that I did.

I first went to my GP, who said that it was in an unusual place but, better to be safe, so he sent me to a specialist. Thankfully, there was no delay.

Waiting for the biopsy, I wasn’t overly concerned

When the specialist dermatologist looked at it, he too said that most likely it would be fine, but again, to be safe, he would be happier to remove it. When they removed it, because of the depth of it, they had to take away a large amount of skin, so I had a skin graph. Then all I had to do was wait for the results of the biopsy, but at that point I still was not overly concerned.

I was only 29 years old, so I wasn’t worried,  but when I got the diagnosis that it was a melanoma, I was totally shocked. I began to worry that it had spread, it can be aggressive cancer. It was a real wake-up call.

The doctors had to investigate if it had spread, and waiting to hear back about that was very worrying. Luckily, the results came back negative.

As a teen, I used to use oil on my skin while sunbathing

Years ago when I was younger, there was not a lot of awareness about the dangers of the sun and like a lot of people, I wasn’t overly concerned about taking care. I used to sunbathe during the summer and on holidays without suns cream and I even used oil on my skin in an attempt to get a tan. As a young adult, I got into sailing, a sport that had my exposed to a lot of sun while out at sea. I got an opportunity to work on the sailing tall ships in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and looking back now I was totally oblivious to the dangers and would rarely wear sunscreen.

I am a typical fair-skinned Irish person. Over here we seem to be obsessed with getting a bit of colour. We get so little sun over here, that when we do, we tend to indulge. We take the shirts off, get the shorts on and we don’t think about what we are exposing our skin to. Now, with fake tan it’s easy, we can get the tan we want from a bottle, so people should save their skin. Ireland and Scotland have some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world, which is a scary thought.

When I see young people lying out in the sun, I know the last thing they are concerned about is cancer, but I try and tell them to be careful, and if they are not thinking of their health, at least think about the wrinkles. Perhaps that will make them wear more sunscreen.

I was lucky that I read up on the signs of skin cancer

A melanoma can be fatal if it isn’t caught quickly. Jim Stynes is an example how it can be a different story for other people. You can have a mole in an unusual place and if you are not pro-active about it, you could miss it. There have been some great breast cancer and prostate cancer awareness campaigns about checking yourself out, but I think people are only now really catching on that they need to be as vigilant when they are checking their skin. I was lucky that I read up on the signs of skin cancer. My mole only had two or three of the signs, so I am glad I decided to go to my doctor. Who knows where I would be if I didn’t.

I just want to get the word out to people that they should be paying attention to any changes they see on their skin and to put sun screen on, no matter what. I don’t think it has sunk in with people that they can be at risk, just like any other cancer. There has been talk about sun bed use in Ireland, we love to look tanned and healthy. To ban something outright can prove difficult, people will get around it. I think that there should be regulations around their use and I think there should be a lot of warnings around the beds, perhaps like they do with the cigarette packets using the graphic images. I think that would make people think twice about using them.

All I can say is, please don’t put it on the long finger. Get checked out. If you enjoy the outdoors, like I do, there is no reason to hide away, just use sun cream and look after your skin.

The Irish Cancer Society has launched its SunSmart campaign which gives tips on how to protect your skin in four easy steps, as well as a UV Index which specifies the hourly UV index for any given area in Ireland.

Read: Calls for health insurers to include mole mapping in general policies>

Read: It’s officially* summer! Let’s play Irish summer bingo>

Read: Melanoma Awareness Month: 100 people die of melanoma every year in Ireland>

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