health

One comment from Kate Stead’s mother-in-law saved her life.

It was early 2013 and Kate Stead had a lot going on. She had one child and was pregnant with a second, and she was working full-time. But her mother-in-law wouldn’t stop hassling her.

“My mother-in-law is a theatre nurse for a plastic surgeon and she kept pointing at this mole on my arm and saying, ‘Have you got that checked? I don’t like the look of it,’” the Sydney mum tells Mamamia. “I’d go, ‘Yeah, whatever. I’ve got other things to worry about.’”

But Stead’s mother-in-law wouldn’t give up.

“She was quite persistent about it and said, ‘I’ve talked to the surgeon that I work for about it and he thinks that you should definitely come and get it checked. Here’s the number.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ So I went down and he looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, that’s not good.’”

A biopsy showed it was a melanoma, which needed to be taken out as soon as possible.

mum with skin cancer
Kate Stead with her youngest son, Patrick. Image supplied.

“As I was lying there, the surgeon was like, ‘So it’s good that we got this now because you’d be dead in a year.’ And I went, ‘Oh right, okay, I kind of wish you hadn’t told me that.’”

The first surgery didn’t get everything, so Stead had to have a second one under general anaesthetic. The surgeon told her that because she was pregnant, the melanoma was growing faster than it normally would have. There was also the possibility that her unborn daughter could be affected by the cancer – which, fortunately, she wasn’t.

“There was this fear behind the rest of the pregnancy,” Stead adds.

Looking back recently at a photo from the time, Stead says the mole was “really large”.

“It was probably half the size of a five-cent piece and really rough around the edges, a dark brown mole with different coloured bits in it. It was really big and getting bigger.”

mum with skin cancer
Image via Getty.
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She admits that before the skin cancer diagnosis, she wasn’t really very sun conscious, despite having “Scottish skin with lots of freckles”.

“I would always wear suncream on my face, but that was more from a vanity perspective. It was rarely more than that, unless I was going to be out in the sun for the whole day. I never really wore hats. I would be in my bikini. I wouldn’t be wearing rashies or anything like that.”

Stead’s husband, a surfer, had lost “quite a large chunk” of his lip to cancer in his early twenties. But that had only made the couple concerned about protecting their lips.

“We’d wear lip balm,” she adds. “We were very focused on that area.”

Stead and her husband are now extremely sun conscious, and even more so when it comes to their kids.

“There are the other kids down at Nippers in their bikinis and our kids are down there in their long-sleeved rash vests, and I’m just like, ‘Deal with it, guys. Sun damage happens when you’re young. Look at Mum’s scar!’”

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Stead, now a mum of three, sometimes reflects on how she might not be around today if it wasn’t for her mother-in-law noticing the suspicious mole.

“I’m grateful and I’m glad and I’m relieved that it was picked up and we were able to stop it. I don’t want that to happen to me again and I don’t want it to happen to someone else, for the sake of not going to the GP or not going to one of the free skincare checks.”

Stead says people her age grew up before the “no hat no play” rule and just ran around outside as kids.

“I think it’s important for our generation, in particular, to be quite vigilant and to get checked – even if it’s to say, ‘I’m putting my kids first by making sure that I’m still there for them.’”

Research shows that 71 per cent of Australians have not had a professional skin check in the last year, so life insurer TAL has launched TAL SpotChecker, a series of pop-up clinics providing free skin checks from skin cancer doctors. Clinics will be held on the Gold Coast and in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth over the summer. To book, visit www.tal.com.au/tal-spotchecker

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