Growing up with red hair, blue eyes, pale skin, freckles and living in Queensland I was always cautious of the sun. The caution was not because I linked being sunburnt necessarily with skin cancer, but because I simply knew that getting sunburnt was not fun. Of course, like anyone, there were instances where I did get sunburnt, but this was a rarity.
In my teenage years, I would start to have skin checks with a dermatologist. They weren’t yearly, but probably every two years. I had a few moles taken off in my teens, but they were all ok.
You could say that I was very aware of my skin from a young age and we never thought I would be where I am now.
As many of you know, my primary melanoma was discovered when I was living in East Timor. A stranger pointed the mole out on my left shoulder and told me to have it looked at when I returned to Brisbane for a holiday a few weeks later.
When I received the news that it was indeed stage 1 melanoma, I knew that I would be having a more regular relationship with my dermatologist. I was told to return to Brisbane every 3 months for a skin check and to make sure no new melanomas popped up.
I remember that appointment well. I had just had a huge chunk of flesh taken out of my shoulder and my dermatologist sat me down and had a very serious conversation. She didn’t tell me that I shouldn’t go back to East Timor, a country where the sun is so harsh; instead she gave me practical advice on what to do between my 3 monthly appointments.
She told me to be sun smart ALL THE TIME and not to be complacent.
Most importantly she taught me to look for signs of melanoma and potential spread of the primary melanoma. I was to look at my skin every month and report any changes to her. She told me to take pictures of suspicious lesions so I can compare them to what they looked like a few weeks or months ago. And, what was most crucial for me, she taught me how to feel for any lumps in my lymph nodes, a sign of the melanoma spreading, and this is how I knew that something was not right in August 2013.
I can honestly say I hit the jackpot with my dermatologist. I have heard so many horror stories of misdiagnosis and, yes, my situation did not turn out that well, but I can look back and know that I did everything in my power to stay on top of my melanoma.
When I speak at events, and more recently, to school students, I always pass on the messages that my dermatologist shared with me. I stress the importance of skin checks with a qualified doctor, whether it is a GP or dermatologist, but on top of this I stress the importance of taking responsibility for oneself. At the end of the day, it is your body and you are the first person that is going to notice a change.
Yesterday I spoke to the wonderful team at SkinVision who have developed a phone app that assists individuals in detecting and tracking suspicious lesions on their skin.
I want to stress at this point that this is NOT a diagnostic device that replace a visit to your doctor!
Here is a video that explains how the app work.
As I said to SkinVision, this would have been the perfect tool for when I was in East Timor. It essentially does what my dermatologist asked me to do, but in a more sophisticated way. I love that the app prompts you to see your doctor, and for those that get a warning… they continually prompt you! It is an app that uses fractal geometry to determine signs of melanoma in suspicious moles, helping you learn which moles to track and what looks normal what doesn’t. It can help you detect any changes, and as I always stress, any change warrants a visit to the doctors.
SkinVision is offering Dear Melanoma readers a 12-month FREE subscription to SkinVision. To redeem your free 12-month subscription head to www.skinvision.com/free and follow the prompts in the email they will send to you. Your code is SVDearMelanoma.
I would love to hear whether you choose to subscribe to the app and whether you find it helpful.
Remember this app is not to take the place of a skin check with a qualified doctor.
If you are a stage 1 melanoma patient and you want some helpful hints, please read a blog post I wrote previously.