Back in 2017, I noticed a mole on my right thigh that looked a lot darker than I remembered it being and my partner wanted me to get it checked out.  My GP referred me to dermatology and once there she looked at it and said she’d like to get it removed as soon as possible and could I come back in an hour…..I did and that began my journey!  

I waited around 5-6 weeks before going back to be told it was Malignant Melanoma (skin cancer) and that further surgery would be needed to take a bigger margin.  I’ve no photos of the original mole as I really didn’t think much of it at the time and even when everyone started talking about further surgeries I don’t think I really took it all in and thought it would be cut out and I’d get on with life - I had very little knowledge of skin cancer and Melanoma at that time. 

I had my Wide Local Excision (WLE) on 31st May 2017 under general anaesthetic, I do remember a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (SLNB) being discussed however, I had received conflicting advice and made the decision not to opt for it. I often wonder if that would have changed things now but it felt like the right thing at the time and I can’t spend my life wondering what if!

The WLE went well, the plastic surgeon was great and although the scar size was a bit of a shock to me when the dressing came off, it healed really well and I started 3 monthly skin and lymph node checks with both Dermatology and Plastics Departments.

Over the next few years there were several moles removed but were either benign or Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC a common form of skin cancer) so nothing too dangerous or scary and I got on with life.  I was more careful in the sun, warned people of the dangers, was probably a real pain about it sometimes but I’d had a scare and wanted others to be careful.

I had used sunbeds in the past, in my early twenties I hired a bed at home and used stand-up tanning beds in the late 90s prior to being a bridesmaid in the hope of a little bit of colour - it didn’t make any difference other than burning me in both instances and I have no recollection of being given any guidance or safety advice.  In my teens I’d had a few bad sunburns from the sun, as a family we didn’t travel abroad and living on the Scottish west coast sunshine wasn’t in abundance but when it came we enjoyed it…..probably without sunscreen as education then was lacking.

2020 arrived and Covid-19 prevented face to face check ups so they were all done via phone but I was at the 3 year stage and potentially moving to 6 monthly checks as everything until then seemed okay.  I developed a cough in the summer, self-isolated as per guidance but it didn’t go away and eventually went to GP as was beginning to hurt my ribs and generally make me unwell.  It took a while of ‘its allergies’, ‘change of medication’ and the dreaded Covid tests before a chest x-ray showed fluid on the lung and a chance comment from me about Melanoma had the GP refer me back to Dermatology who then involved Respiratory Consultants. 

Further tests, CT Scans and biopsies followed and in December 2020 was confirmed that melanoma had spread to liver, lungs and bones around those organs. I was stage 4 with metastatic melanoma!  Christmas Eve, my partner & I attended the Beatson Cancer Hospital in Glasgow to meet my cancer team and to find out what options were available to me.  In early Jan 2021 I started combination treatment of Ipi/Nivo.

I’ve now completed 4 x Ipi/Nivo sessions which have taken their toll on my body, included a couple of hospital stays and pretty much destroyed my thyroid and adrenal glands so I am on Thyroxine and Hydrocortisone pretty much for life now – I am still getting the dosage right and awaiting Endocrine Consultant appointment who will work in conjunction with Oncology. 

Single Nivo will start in a few weeks and continue monthly for as long as my body responds with regular scans to keep a check on progress.  While medication has helped with some side effects, I wasn’t prepared for the fatigue and just general low feelings that come with both the disease and ongoing treatment.  Scans so far have shown some improvement which is positive yet is hard to be totally confident and optimistic about the future as there is a constant little fear at the back of my head, statistics aren’t always the most optimistic and my consultant was fairly honest with me when we first discussed prognosis.  Until now I’ve been dealing with physical side of melanoma - treatment, side effects, medication etc. however, now the mental and emotional side has caught up with me and I have my first counselling session planned to help both me deal with my own feelings but also to help me help my family.

I am single parent with a 12 year old daughter, a great partner, family and friends all who are supportive however, I try to protect them all as much as I can and my biggest fear is not really knowing what the future holds and how long it might be before cancer spreads or treatment doesn’t work and I deteriorate.  Of course, there is a chance that immunotherapy will continue to work as it has for so many so most days I am a mix of hope for the future and fear for the future – hoping and working to get to a place where there are more good days than bad and I find a happy balance. 

My advice to everyone now is look after your skin, wear sunscreen even at home as it’s the same sun here as it is abroad and get to know your skin so you notice changes and get them checked out as soon as possible.

As told by Sharon Ledger - May 2021