All aboard the Melanoma Rollercoaster - buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride - destination unclear.

This is the only way I can sum up my experience of malignant melanoma for not only myself but my friends, colleagues and family. It’s a ride I never intended to board and not one I’d recommend - everyone’s experience is seemingly different and it’s impossible to predict, although the ride itself will teach you so many hopefully positive things about yourself and your capabilities so don’t be scared, there’s always hope.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma with a lesion so glaringly obviously cancerous (at least to any health professional) it made my poor GP do a double take when I casually asked if he could take a look at a mole that didn’t look “quite right.” The mole was around 3cm diameter, raised and nodular and had begun itching - something I attributed to something as innocuous as catching on the waistband of my jeans - how wrong I was.

After my wonderful GP referred me at speed and with supporting photographs to my local hospital Dermatology team, what followed was a biopsy in my initial dermatology appointment, devastating (but expected) diagnosis, referral to the wonderful Whiston & St Helens Plastics team (special mention for Professor Rowan Pritchard-Jones for his excellent care, advice, empathy and of course surgical skills along with his fantastic team of surgeons) for a wide local excision, sentinel lymph node biopsy and after confirmation of spread to my lymph gland, lymph node dissection with much mulling, discussing and crying along the way. I would highly recommend Whiston Hospital - I sincerely thank and appreciate every single doctor, nurse, consultant, porter, cleaner, admin and any other healthcare workers I may have forgotten to list that I received care and support from who went above and beyond to ensure I felt cared for and safe.

I would say that the surgical aspect of being a melanoma patient has been the least scary experience because of the above care. I continue to have superb care at my outpatient appointments in Wrexham Maelor (CT scans at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd notwithstanding) and am so grateful to have the wonderful NHS at my disposal - how lucky we all are to have such an amazing institution to call on.

Post surgery I have managed to return (although admittedly much changed in my perspective of what matters) to normal life. I have the usual outpatient appointments and CT scans, avoid the sun as if I were Count Dracula himself and religiously check my skin for abnormalities. Slight bump in the road in 2021 where a (post covid 19 vaccine) CT scan showed an abnormal lymph node which resulted in a referral to the breast cancer team - thankfully the node abnormality was a common and harmless side effect of the vaccine and not more melanoma.

Fast forward to late 2021 and two more primary melanomas were picked up in my outpatient check up and the usual wide local excisions followed. I’m currently awaiting the results of another biopsy for yet another suspicious lesion and am keeping my fingers crossed this time it is just a mole that doesn’t look “quite right.” I have pale skin, blue eyes, lots of freckles and moles and never tan and was and still am an ideal candidate for skin cancer.

I don’t believe in living a life of regrets but if I could travel back in time I would take much better care of the biggest organ in my body and tell myself that there is no such thing as a safe tan. Unfortunately I can’t time travel so what I will do is highly recommend sun protection to anyone who will listen and try to remember how very lucky I am to be able to tell this tale.

As written by Natalie Billington (12.4.2022)