What it’s like to be 18 at university with skin cancer

‘It can come back any time, but melanoma will not defeat me’

Last year my sister noticed something odd about the mole on my neck and wanted me to get it removed. I hadn’t thought anything of it. Luckily I listened to her rather than my own instincts of wanting to keep it.

Within a matter of weeks doctors diagnosed me with Superficial Malignant Melanoma. From that moment it made me question everything. How can it happen to someone at 18 years old, who rarely sunbathes and has never been on a sunbed?

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This was the last picture of the mole on my neck. It was cancerous.

I didn’t let the news about my cancer stop me from going to university. At first it granted me a new fresh perspective on life. In September I wanted forget it was even an issue. I wanted to enjoy myself, find new friends and forever live in the moment just like everyone else.

But once Freshers’ Week was over, that’s when it hit me that a crucial operation was just around the corner. Everything in my life was paused for almost a month.

I was diagnosed with melanoma and it was caught at stage 2B, meaning I only needed further surgery to remove the area that could have cancer remaining.

My operation removed a further 2cm of skin around my current scar and removed lymph nodes that detected signs of cancer. The operation was successful and I was able to rest at home the next day. But my recovery process felt very long – I was tired and aching a lot.

I was determined to get back to reality because I didn’t want to be ill anymore, and I didn’t want my family to watch me deteriorate as low as I did. Whenever I look at that part of my life, it was full of very dark moments.

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This was taken hours after my operation. I had a drain in my neck, a drip and I was on oxygen.

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This was the day I found out I was all clear. I still had to have dressing on one of my stitches at this point.

I did recover and went back to university. Then within a matter of weeks I found out my results – I discovered I was all clear from cancer. I felt relieved that it was finally all over, but now I have to take more precautions when I am out in the sun. This means wearing high factor sun lotions as well as staying inside during certain time of day.

The UK is currently having a beautiful heatwave with temperatures reaching around 25 degrees and it is important to look after your skin. No matter how old you are. Even if you’re going abroad this year, it’s crucial to watch out when the sun is out and to top up on sun lotions.

So many people want a “base layer” beforehand and go on sun beds, but they’re equally as dangerous as the sun. If not even worse. These two expose you to harsh levels of ultraviolet (UV) rays which can cause malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Because I’ve had this type of cancer, I don’t wish for anyone to else to go through the same situation. Unfortunately melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in young people aged between 15 – 24, the third most common in females and the sixth most common in males.

Because I know quite a few people who love to sun bathe and frequently use sun beds – you know who you are – I want you to think about the damage you are doing to your skin. You only have one life and you have to take care of yourself.

Since having cancer, it has made me aware of the dangers of the sun and has warned me of the possibility that it can come back any time, whether it’ll be in the next five years or when I’m much older. Cancer will not defeat me.

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This is my most recent photo of my scars slowly healing still.

What I really want to send out to you all is if you spot an abnormal mole on your body, you should get it checked out.  I was going to ignore my mole and go to university without checking the symptoms. Getting it checked out potentially saved my life.

Don’t ignore any changes on your body because it might be too late.

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